Paul Hastings LLP - The Inside View

70 years old but young at heart, this international firm has its eyes firmly on the future.

WITH 21 offices and 1,000-plus attorneys, Paul Hastings may not be quite the “scrappy young firm” (as one associate put it) that was founded in Los Angeles back in 1951, but that go-getting spirit still exists. To managing partner Greg Nitzkowski, the firm's relative youth is an advantage: “We don't have some golden age 150 years ago,” he tells us, “so we don't lament change.” Of course, change can sometimes cause some grumbling – the announcement that the New York branch would move to an open plan layout was met with “some pushback,” for example – but overall our sources liked working somewhere that didn't “rest on its laurels.”

Paul Hastings was founded in LA, but these days it's New York that hosts the most associates. This is due in part to the fact that the firm sees New York along with Palo Alto and DC as the firm's key growth areas. This isn't to say that the other offices are falling by the wayside. According to Greg Nitzkowski, “every office has its strength, which means that while every office is relevant, each office will offer students slightly different opportunities, and a lot of our offices are very focused on what they do best for clients.” Atlanta, for example, might attract students interested in M&A and banking regulatory work, while those inclined toward real estate should look at Los Angeles and San Francisco “where there are a number of enormous, generational real estate developments going on.” 

The Work

Applicants get to express their interests during OCIs, and rotate through a number of departments while summering with the firm at the larger offices. After this, “you rank your preferences,” explained a New Yorker, “and they make every effort to put you in your chosen practice group.” There is some flexibility, with associates able to split their first year between two practice groups before transitioning to one full time. “I certainly can't think of anyone who got stuck in a practice group they didn't want.” The biggest groups for junior associates are litigation and corporate, then real estate. Smaller groups include employment and tax.

Associates in the bigger offices usually fill in weekly status reports which are submitted to an assigning partner, who is particularly useful for making sure “you have enough work, you have the sort of work you want to do, and you aren't overburdened.” Use of the system isn't mandatory, but our sources acknowledged its usefulness. “The firm encourages us to approach partners and senior associates for work,” one told us, “but some people aren't comfortable doing that at first, so it's nice to have the assigning partner as well.”

"There's always a partner there to make sure I don't screw up too badly."

The larger departments, like corporate and litigation, are divided into sub-departments. “In theory, you're a generalist,” said a corporate attorney in M&A, “but I found when I started that 90% of my work came from one department.” Corporate contains the usual stalwarts like M&A and equity capital markets, but other specialties like leveraged finance and project finance also fall under its umbrella. Although “there's always a partner there to make sure I don't mess up too badly,” associates across the corporate groups get a good helping of responsibility. “I've drafted SPAs and ancillary documents, and I've walked clients through changes I've made,” one corporate associate told us. Litigation subgroups include patent litigation, securities and white-collar crime. "What's great about this group is that we don't do much doc review," a litigator revealed. "That's normally done by contract attorneys."

A stint in real estate is likely to see juniors liaising with other offices, for example Chicago lawyers helping New York colleagues on the property aspects of their transactions. Real estate is a smaller department in most offices, which lends itself to leanly staffed assignments and greater responsibility: “I was tasked with junior, mid-level and even senior work, and soon I was running the smaller deals.”


Law firms in general are fond of talking up their culture: “A lot of the time it's a load of crap,” reflected one associate. But at Paul Hastings, talk of an "entrepreneurial" culture means the firm is “more practical and less burdened by ideas of what a law firm should be.” We were told there's a constant effort “to be more innovative in how we approach clients, structure fees and staff deals.” This isn't to say that Paul Hastings leaps onto every bandwagon it sees: “We don't follow the crowd. Management wants to make sure we only do stuff that makes sense.”

"Less burdened by ideas about what a law firm should be."

Paul Hastings may attract people who want to push the envelope and set trends, but “you won't find any sharp elbows or crazy gunners here.” This came as a relief to associates. “The work is tough, but it's that much easier when you're working with someone you get a long with,” mused an Atlantan. “There's a mutual respect between partners and associates, and everyone is treated equally,” said an IP boffin, adding “I certainly didn't expect it to be so egalitarian.” Socially there's “less of a happy hour crowd in DC than in New York,” whose associates admitted to “multiple informal happy hours.”

Training & Development

Paul Hastings uses the catchy acronym PH DNA (it stands for Paul Hastings Developing New Associates) to describe its training program. It kicks off with the associates assembling at one location for a few days of “symposia, business training and other general 'how to be a lawyer' things.” This includes training on the culture of the firm, followed by practice group-specific training, then there's informal mentoring throughout the year. Usefully the firm gives new associates 150 client readiness hours, giving them billable credit for “sitting in on phone calls, accompanying partners to meetings and shadowing senior people in court.” These not only allow juniors to make mistakes and discover strengths and weaknesses, but they also give them exposure to much higher level work than they'd normally see. “I've done all sorts of fascinating things with those hours,” mused one.

"I've done all sorts of fascinating things." 

The assessment process has recently been overhauled to make it less formal and more “organic.” The associates we spoke to approved of this, citing the age-old principle that “less paperwork is better.” Under the newly de-paperworked regime, associates “are encouraged to seek feedback throughout the year,” which involves discussions with associates and partners and filling out a self-assessment. This is then reviewed by the partners, who sit down with the associate and discuss the latter's performance throughout the year. “It's not unduly burdensome,” thought our sources, “and it gives you the right level of feedback and information.”

Strategy & Future and Offices 

The New York office is “currently a little dated, but that's all slated to change in April 2016 when we move.” The new digs will be above Grand Central Station in the MetLife Building which, in the words of one associate, “will make it easier to get into work.” The move is likely to see attorneys swapping their offices for an open plan workspace, which ruffled a few feathers. “The firm's definitely thinking about communal spaces,” said one associate. “Maybe it's a fad and maybe not.” No such worries in Atlanta, which is “one of the smaller offices, but located in one of the biggest buildings in Midtown.” Paul Hastings's other domestic offices are in Chicago, Houston, LA, Orange County, Palo Alto, San Diego, San Fran and DC. It has a further ten offices overseas.

According to managing partner Greg Nitzkowski, the firm's key markets for growth are London, New York, Washington, DC and Palo Alto. “Those are where the work we want to do is,” he explains. “For example, we've always been strong in real estate finance, and more and more of that sector is concentrated in London and New York.” Similarly, he sees the firm investing in “intellectual property, Foreign Corrupt Practices Act investigations, white-collar criminal defense and equity capital markets,” among other staples like M&A. This isn't to say that Paul Hastings is running down its other offices; he sees them becoming “smaller and more focused” on their own specialist areas.

Hours, Compensation and Pro Bono 

"They're happy for us to keep our own hours as long as the work is done."

“When the deal is on and the deadline is looming...I usually go home,” confessed one associate when asked whether late nights were necessary, though admittedly they continue working from the comfort of the couch. “They're generally happy for us to keep our own hours as long as the work is done,” said another. Sometimes tasks require attorneys to be physically present in the office, so late nights do ensue. “I've had to stay until 2am or 2.30am a couple of times,” recalled a source in M&A, “but that was during a closing, when everyone was running around with their hair on fire.”

Of course, when the work requires it, attorneys did find themselves pulling all-nighters, but these were balanced by the opportunity to go home early when work is slow. “Barring something crazy, you aren't expected to sit in your office all the time,” said a source. What associates are expected to do, at least if they want to be bonus-eligible, is bill 2,000 hours a year. “It's definitely manageable,” said a non-plussed attorney. “The firm makes sure you hit the target at a reasonable pace.” For first-years, this is helped by the presence of those 150 client readiness hours, and associates at all levels can bill as many pro bono hours as they like toward the target. All associates who hit that 2,000 hour mark get a bonus, although the amount varies depending on how many hours over the target associates are, as well as their performance review.

There may not be any upper limit on the number of pro bono hours Paul Hastings lawyers can bill, but there is a minimum requirement of 20. “Everyone does way more than that,” said one associate, who had done so much pro bono work they had lost count. Additionally, a lot of the pro bono matters the firm gets involved with are “discrete tasks that you can get involved in when you have the time,” which helps harried associates fit them into their busy schedules. Pro bono offerings range from death row miscarriage of justice cases to helping independent filmmakers secure permits. “You really get to run with the cases,” enthused a third-year. “It's a great way to get your feet wet.”

Pro bono hours 

  • For all attorneys across all US offices: 68,582 
  • Average per US attorney: 90


"The partners here take it extremely seriously."

“The legal profession hasn't been the greatest when it comes to diversity,” admitted our sources, “but the partners here take it extremely seriously.” Paul Hastings boasts all the usual affinity groups, which run a variety of “speakers, mentoring programs, dinners, lunches, and roundtables.” They also host certain “less traditional activities, like happy hours,” and, in the case of the women's group, produce an annual report on female representation on corporate boards. “It's one of the most read items on the website,” explained an associate who had taken part. To encourage diverse students to apply, the firm offers a couple of $10,000 scholarships, and looks to foster connections with diversity organizations on campus. "We collaborate with leading diversity organizations, law schools, diverse student groups, and clients to host panel discussions, career workshops, receptions, and job fairs around the country," official sources at the firm tell us. 

Get Hired

Paul Hastings currently asks 'behavioral questions' at the callback stage (although this may change as the firm is reviewing its recruiting processes). We heard that these can cover topics like how you deal with tricky situations. While such questions may have been a source of anxiety, associates who have sat on the other side of the table assured us there's nothing to worry about. “Some people find them difficult to answer,” one admitted, “but ultimately all we're trying to do is get them talking about themselves.” Interviewers generally confine themselves to one behavioral question per interview. “They aren't the emphasis of the interview,” recalled a DC source.

“Drive, intellect and interpersonal skills."

Instead questioning focuses on candidate competencies. These include things like achievement, drive, teamwork, leadership, strong written and oral communication and a knowledge of the business world. The associates we spoke to who had been involved in recruitment also stressed the importance of personality. “Drive, intellect and interpersonal skills are important,” one explained, “but if you're mean spirited you won't fit in here.” 


Interview with Greg Nitzkowski, managing partner

Chambers Associate: Can you tell us a bit about the firm's strategy?

Greg Nitzkowski: Like our competitors, our most significant growth in the near-term is likely to be in London, New York, Washington, D.C. and the Bay Area, which is driven by our practice and industry strategies. We are focused on deepening and broadening, our finance, private equity and M&A practices. On the disputes side of our practice, we anticipate continued growth in our IP and investigations/white collar practices. Although we represent a broad set of industries around the firm, our fastest growing industry representations will continue to be in pharma/life sciences, data and technology, financial services, energy and real estate.

CA: With that in mind, what role do the other offices play?

GN: We’re present in the most important legal markets in the world. We have relevant expertise and clients in each of those markets. Meaningful client relationships that are shared around the firm are the cornerstone of every office, but the mix of clients differs by market. For example, Atlanta, in addition to New York, serves as a cornerstone of our banking practice because of the large presence of new era, technology driven financial service providers in that market. But geography itself matters less and less to our clients and the way we work. Significant client matters are staffed across offices. As a result, the quality of a junior lawyer’s professional experience is not determined by the office in which she works. Instead it is determined by her work ethic, relevant professional experience and internal reputation for excellence. So, while we may be growing more in certain markets, each office has a dual role as a creator of shared client opportunities and as a reservoir of talent and a source of client service excellence.

CA: Do you have any advice for our student readers as they try to enter the legal profession?

GN: Be informed and think carefully, not only about what type of law you want to practice, but also where you want to work. Take classes that build your knowledge in substantive areas of interest for you. Understand where the best opportunities are for that substantive interest. Use your network of friends to explore areas of practice and differences in geographic choices, as well as asking questions about differences in law firms or law firms vs. working in-house or for a governmental agency.

CA: Do you like applicants to have some sort of connection to the office they're applying to?

GN: In hiring for any office, talent is our focus rather than city of origin. We need talented lawyers in all of our offices. Where a lawyer is located has little to do with the quality or nature of what they work on. For example, it is common for an M&A associate in San Diego to work with colleagues in Shanghai, New York and Washington, DC on an acquisition by a Chinese client in the US.

CA: What does Paul Hastings do to encourage diversity in recruiting?

GN: We take diversity very seriously and we’re very goal driven--and it shows in our rankings and in the diverse attorneys we have at all levels of seniority and in positions of leadership. It's not just about taking diversity seriously, it's about excellence, and that focus on excellence touches every aspect of our approach to diversity, from outreach and recruiting to the development of our talent, and most importantly in our approach to promoting that talent into our partner ranks. Last year women made up 50% of our new partner class. We think that’s a repeatable result and milestone that reflects our superior approach to creating greater diversity.

Paul Hastings LLP

515 South Flower Street,
Twenty-Fifth Floor,
Los Angeles,
CA 90071

  • Head Office: New York, NY
  • Number of domestic offices: 10
  • Number of international offices: 11
  • Worldwide revenue: $1,056,500,000
  • Partners (US): 253
  • Associates (US): 438
  • Summer Salary 2016  
  • 1Ls: $3,100
  • 2Ls: $3,100
  • Post 3Ls: $3,100
  • 1Ls hired? Yes
  • Split summers offered? Case by case
  • Can summers spend time in overseas office? In special cases, we may offer the opportunity to spend two weeks in one of our offices in Asia. The summer associate must have the appropriate language skills.
  • Summers 2016: 132
  • Offers/acceptances 2015: 69 offers

Firm profile
At Paul Hastings, our purpose is clear - to help our clients and people navigate new paths to growth. With a strong presence throughout Asia, Europe, Latin America and the US, Paul Hastings is recognized as one of the world’s most innovative global law firms. In 2015, the firm ranked first on The American Lawyer’s A-List and Vault’s #1 Place to Work.

Main areas of work
With offices across Asia, Europe and the US, we have the global reach and wide-ranging capabilities to provide personalized service wherever our clients’ needs take us. Our practice areas include: anticorruption and compliance, antitrust and competition, complex commercial litigation, employment, finance and restructuring, global banking and payment systems, intellectual property, investment management, mergers and acquisitions, privacy and data security, private equity, real estate, securities and capital markets, securities litigation, tax, white collar defense and investigations.

Recruitment details
• Number of 1st year associates: 65
• Number of 2nd year associates: 55
• Associate salaries: 1st year: $180,000
• 2nd year: $190,000
• Clerking policy: Yes

Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2016:
Berkeley, University of Chicago, Columbia, Cornell, Duke, Emory, Fordham, Georgia, Georgetown, George Mason, GW, Harvard, Howard, Michigan, Northwestern, NYU, Penn, Stanford, UC Hastings, University of Houston, UC Irvine, UCLA, USC, University of San Diego, University of Texas, UVA, Vanderbilt, Yale

Summer details
Summer associate profile:
At Paul Hastings, it’s smart business to build diverse teams rich in talent, experiences, and creativity. We seek students who exemplify the hallmarks of our successful associates: innovative, strong communication skills, achievement drive, interpersonal savvy, client service excellence and ability to be collaborative team members. Students should be committed to work for a dynamic and entrepreneurial law firm on complex legal matters across practices and offices to help our clients overcome challenges and move their business forward. Law students with outstanding academic credentials, superior writing skills, Law Review, Journal, or Moot Court membership are favorably considered.

Summer program components:
Our Summer Program serves as a cornerstone for the recruitment of outstanding associates and the future success of our firm. We are fully committed to the professional development and advancement of each summer associate. Summer associates are given substantive work with a variety of lawyers and a realistic view of practicing law at Paul Hastings. Our summer associates observe and, when possible, assist in trials, hearings, depositions and negotiations, and participate in client meetings and closings. Summer associates can also expect mentoring in a collaborative work environment.