Pepper Hamilton LLP - The Inside View

This healthy full service Philly firm is a heavy hitter in its home city and has a growing presence on both coasts.

IN law, as in life, change is a constant, and Pepper Hamilton didn't get to the sprightly age of 125 without moving with the times. The firm hasn't just developed new practices, grown to nearly 500 lawyers, or expanded out of its Philadelphia birthplace to offices on both coasts. It's innovated in other ways, and for example was one of the first law firms to offer value-based billing instead of rigid hourly rates. A focus on innovation is appropriate given that many of Pepper's clients come from the fast-moving pharmaceuticals industry, and shines through its snazzy website – one of the better law firm sites we've seen.

Thirteen offices countrywide include all the places you'd expect and a few that might surprise you. New York, Los Angeles, Boston and Washington, DC are all represented, but so too is Berwyn, a Philly suburb (population 3,631, a short drive from Villanova University). The firm is also one of the few in this guide that has an office in Princeton and Harrisburg.  “We do not have a plan to get to a certain size,” managing partner Tom Cole explains, “but we'll get as big as we need to in order to service our clients' needs.”  However, most junior associates were based in Philadelphia at the time of our calls. As we went to press, it was reported that Pepper Hamilton had entered merger talks with Reed Smith, although these came to nothing.


Pepper is organized by practice area rather than along office lines, which leads to a high degree of cooperation between offices. “Philadelphia is the main office, so things often start here,” said a health effects litigator at Pepper HQ, “but I could be working with health effects lawyers in New York while my friends in commercial litigation work on stuff in California.”  That said, some offices do have a geographical or sectoral focus. Princeton is full-service, but with a focus on the New Jersey market. Given their reputation as hotbeds of innovation, the offices in Boston and Silicon Valley have strong IP practices, while unsurprisingly DC hosts some government-centered groups, like government contracts and international trade litigation. The other offices we haven't mentioned so far are in Detroit, Orange County, Pittsburg, and Wilmington, DE.

The Work

"I could be working with health effects lawyers in New York while my friends in commercial litigation work on stuff in California.”

Health effects litigation is probably Pepper's best known practice, and takes the most juniors. It's a product liability group with a focus on pharmaceutical companies and medical device manufacturers. Juniors are assigned to large teams focusing on litigation arising out of dodgy products, for example if they've injured someone. Within their 'product teams', they're then assigned to work on specific cases. Depending on the case's progress, tasks can include “written discovery and drafting interrogatories, drafting and filing motions, and supporting memoranda,” and “writing outlines for expert depositions.” It's a science-y department and newbies can expect to grapple with some scientific as well as legal concepts: “I've been working on some issues surrounding molecular biology," for example. But don't panic just yet: humanities and arts grads are actually well represented in this department.

The second highest number of juniors work in commercial litigation, which is research heavy and "involves the ever glamorous document review" but also offers the chance to depose witnesses and interview clients, among other things. Comm lit's appeal is the broad, almost eclectic mix of cases available: “We're like the grabbag of what the other litigation groups don't do,” joked one associate, “so there's no such thing as a typical case.” Alongside the more traditional contractual disputes work, the group also handles data protection, white-collar and higher education internal investigations.

Litigation generally constitutes the bulk of Pepper's work, but the transactional side of things is big too and has been growing. The corporate & securities group offers a mix of capital markets, fund formation and M&A work, and deals can be national, regional and even international. "I was amazed at how varied the work has been,” enthused one here. “I'll do the first draft of something, manage the checklist and the diligence process. I've never had an associate say 'next time I'll do the first cut'.” Corporate lawyers work closely with transactional IP experts, whose department “covers all things patent, copyright, trademark and trade secrets-related.” In addition to doing specialist due diligence work for their corporate colleagues, there's also “a lot of drafting work, preparing license agreements and doing markups.” This is a smaller group, "which means I get exposed to more things at a quicker place," explained one associate. "We're encouraged to be the clients' first point of contact."

"We're encouraged to be the clients' first point of contact."

Different departments have different ways of allocating work. In corporate & securities, associates report their availability, giving assigning partners an overview of who is available, enabling them to match partners who need help with free lawyers. In health effects, assignment is handled by team leader Nina Gussack, while in some of the smaller departments, juniors approach those higher up. Whatever system they used, there was no one left twiddling their thumbs. “At a lot of firms, new associates worry about not having work to do,” noted one health effects litigator, “but that's not the case here.”


The first week of training is the same for everyone, regardless of practice group or office. Associates from all over the firm converge on Philadelphia for such exciting topics as “systems training and how to interact with support services.” Following this, there is “ongoing orientation tailored to your particular practice area.” This isn’t just about getting to grips with legal skills; it’s also a chance to bone up on commercial awareness. “It’s all about understanding the industry,” said a source in health effects. “There’s a big push for young associates to understand their client’s business.”  

"It could be more hands-on and less theoretical.”

Outside Philly, a lot of training is conducted by videoconference, which people had mixed feelings about. “Some of it was helpful, some less so,” admitted an associate in a smaller office. “I think it could be more hands-on and less theoretical.” Associates enjoyed the two deposition training events, one where Pepper partners with other law firms, and the other where local UPenn sciencey students (e.g. PhDs) will volunteer to play the witnesses. “There was an attorney taking the deposition and one defending, and then the wild card: a PhD student acting as a witness,” one junior experienced. 

Hours & Compensation

"I pulled an 18 hour day a couple of months back. It's rare for that to happen, but when it does, it's exciting."

“I wasn't expecting New York hours,” said one Philadelphian, “but sometimes that was what I got.” Fear not, though: it's certainly not back-to-back late nights, and lawyers occasionally get to work nine to five when it's slow. "When you're on a deal and you're working, you're really working, but when you're not, you can do what you want,” summed up one associate. Even when the heat is on, lawyers admitted that the adrenaline rush more than compensated for the long hours. "I pulled an 18 hour day a few months back," confided one source. "It's rare for that to happen, but when it does, it's exciting." 

Everyone we spoke to thought the billable hours target of 1,940 was realistic. Associates described their salary as "competitive," and felt that it adequately compensated for the times when they did have to work late. "I remember how scary the economy was when I was in law school, so I'm happy to have a salary" admitted one, "and besides, we all just got a raise." 


“There isn't that much happening after work,” admitted a Philly lawyer, “but people are always getting together for lunch or a drink.” Much of the socializing is done in a "nonstructured kind of way," but there are regular happy hours, and practice groups put on formal events from time to time. When we asked if it was possible to work at Pepper and have a life, interviewees answered with a collective 'yes.' For one thing, they get four weeks' vacation and partners allow them to use it all up. If that isn't possible, associates can roll one week of it to the first quarter of the following year.

"Someone who's only out for themselves wouldn't fit in here."

Pepperites insisted this isn't the sort of firm for those with sharpened elbows. “There's no competition and nobody's trying to one-up their neighbor,” said one. "Someone who's only out for themselves wouldn't fit in here." When the pressure's on and deadlines loom, lawyers "are all rowing in concert." Which is just as well, "because there's a lot of work to do."

Pro Bono

Pepper gets its associates involved in pro bono from the start. “They really encourage you to get stuck in,” explained a source. “I was able to get involved immediately.” Others concurred: “There's no limit on the number of pro bono hours you can do, and there's no distinction between pro bono clients and paying clients.” Depending on the office and practice group, there's a range of matters to sink your teeth into. In Philly, litigators can go to bat in Municipal Court for low-income tenants having difficulty with their landlords, while other sources reported working on “guardianship matters, children's social security appeals and representing children in abuse cases.”  

It's not just in the courtroom, either. On the transactional side, there's the opportunity to help startup businesses and nonprofits. Pepper also sponsors an annual essay writing competition named after former federal judge (and current firm bigwig) James T Giles. The idea is to get Philly's diverse public school students thinking (and writing) about hot-topic legal and policy issues. As part of its 125th anniversary celebrations, the firm organized a community service week, which included bussing Philly associates to a big park to give it a clean-up, helping at a homeless shelter, and assisting veterans.

Pro bono hours 

  • For all attorneys across all offices: 25,731
  • Average per US attorney: 50


"...guard against unconscious bias and focus on the quality of the application."

Diversity “is definitely something that Pepper believes in,” said one interviewee. “It's not just for show.” The firm has affinity groups for ethnic minorities, LGBT attorneys and veterans and has a 'champion of diversity' award for someone prominent in business or academia who's worked to promote diversity. According to hiring partner Sean Fahy, the firm has also made a concerted effort to weed out unconscious bias. He tells us that “we've made a big push to train everyone involved in the hiring process on implicit bias, and to guard against it we remove any reference to a candidate's name and law school from their writing sample.”  This not only removes the risk of unconscious bias but also ”allows us to focus on the quality of the application,” ultimately leading to better recruitment decisions.   

Get Hired

When it comes to a candidate's resume, Pepper tends to focus on what a candidate has done at law school. "They aren't looking for anything in particular," explained an associate, "but things like law review, mock trial or affinity groups certainly help." While you'll need to show that you're committed to working in Philadelphia if you want to work here, Pepper isn't as picky as other firms in the neighborhood. "Some firms are suspicious that people are planning to disappear off to New York or Washington, so they'll question you over and over about your motivation," we heard.

"The worst thing you can do is not be yourself."

“In some years, half our class is made up of people who have written to us directly, applying outside the OCI process,” says hiring partner Sean Fahy. Associates told us the OCIs themselves aren't “too wacky,” and serve as a screening process for the main callback interview. At either the write-in or OCI stage, candidates submit a writing sample. At the callback, recruiters pick the applicant's brains about his or her writing style. Following that, “you're given a hypothetical legal scenario to talk through with the interviewers,” said one source familiar with the process. Although “there's no right or wrong answer,” sources involved with recruitment admitted that this part “could feel a little wacky if you're on the other end.” Sean Fahy advises against panicking though: "All of our interviewing is designed to to get to know you; the worst thing you can do is not be yourself."

Strategy & Future

Speaking of recruitment, Pepper hires between 20 and 25 first-years each year, of which most tend to go to Philly. This formula isn't set in stone, according to HP Sean Fahy. "Recruitment is driven by discussions with the partners in each office,” he says. There's certainly a push to increase Pepper's presence outside Philadelphia. As the firm is "already a strong player in Philadelphia and the mid-Atlantic, we're looking to grow our presence on the West Coast and, on the East Coast, in New York, Boston and Washington, DC," managing partner Tom Cole tells us. "We want to be geographically balanced across the country.”

Interview with Pepper Hamilton managing partner Tom Cole

Chambers Associate: Last year there was a big West Coast push, is that still the case?

TC: California continues to be a strategic focus, and we're continuing to add to our Los Angeles and Orange County offices. We're continuing to build on the East Coast as well; we've added several laterals to the New York office. Washington DC is another important market for us, so we're looking to strategically grow there, too.

CA: What highlights from the past year that you want to flag up to student readers?

TC: It's been a solid year for us; our health effects continued to be a market leader and the firm's engine, but there's also been very solid performances from corporate, securities and transactions. On the transactional front we've seen some major IPOs like Inerva and Bojangles and the healthcare side of the practice has continued to grow. Litigation has also been solid, with the whie collar practice performing particularly well.

CA: What's your long term vision for Pepper Hamilton? 

TC: We think we have Philadelphia and the Mid-Atlantic covered. We're looking to grow in New York and Boston, and become better geographically balanced by adding good lawyers on the West Coast. There's no grand plan to be a certain size, but we'll get as big as we have to to serve our client needs.

CA: What lessons have you learnt from the worldwide economic downturn?

TC: Our transactional work is mid-market, so we didn't suffer as much in the downturn as other firms with high flyers on the securities front. The companies we represent were certainly affected by the recession but we didn't feel it as hard. We learned that the days of law firms could just raise fees and expect clients to accept them was over. We were one of the first firms to offer alternative fee arrangements, starting with our clients in the pharmaceutical industry.

CA: What are Pepper Hamilton's core practice and how does revenue split between contentious and non-contentious work?

TC: I'd say recent numbers would show 65% litigation and 35% transactional. We've also got a very strong intellectual property practice, which has a patent litigation side and an IP transactional side.

CA: What are the hot practice areas right now? 

TC: We have an international arbitration practice led by Matt Adler and Jeremy Heath, two of our accomplished litigation partners. They've been representing clients in international disputes for a number of years, both in traditional venues like London and others like India. It helps us stand out from the competition, but it also fits nicely with our transactional work, a decent amount of which is sourced from outside the US.

Our healthcare transactional practice is based in the Los Angeles office and has been growing nicely. The healthcare industry has been changing so rapidly and we already know a lot about all things life sciences, so this group has had a lot of success going to market.

CA: Last year we said that Pepper treats partners' involvement in diversity matters as a factor in deciding compensation. Is this still the case?

TC: Yes, the compensation committee looks at assistance in recruitment, partnering with the diversity committee, whether they serve as mentors to diverse associates and whether they involve diverse attorneys on client and pitch matters.

CA: What was the firm like when you joined and how has it changed?

TC: Our footprint has changed- twenty years ago we had no DC or Chicago offices. Now we have both and have grown to 500 lawyers. We've adapted and reacted to market pressures. Health effects has grown exponentially and our transactional practices have grown until their almost equal to litigation. What strikes me the most is what hasn't changed; our values of hard work, shared purpose and relentless commitment to client surface, and we're vigilant about maintaining those values.

CA: And finally, do you have any words of wisdom for our student readers as they try to enter the legal profession?

TC: The profession is changing, but there will always be room for hard working, adaptive and creative lawyers who are willing to embrace the experience. Yes, there can be a grind in the day to day, and when you get out of law school you don't really know what you don't know, but there are wonderful opportunities to help people. The other thing is that the law is still a profession, and anyone entering it needs to embrace that.

Pepper Hamilton LLP

3000 Two Logan Square,
Eighteenth and Arch Streets,
PA 19103-2799

  • Head Office: Philadelphia, PA 
  • Number of domestic offices: 13
  • Number of international offices: 0
  • Worldwide revenue: $389,000,000
  • Partners (US): 227
  • Associates (US): 260 (inc. Of Counsel)
  • Summer Salary 2016  
  • 1Ls: $2,900/week
  • 2Ls: $2,900-$3,100/week
  • 1Ls hired? Yes
  • Split summers offered? No
  • Summers 2016: 23
  • Offers/acceptances 2015: 20 offers, 18 acceptances

Main areas of work
Our practice areas encompass nearly all areas of law and span many key industry sectors. Our largest and best-known practices include: pharmaceutical and medical device litigation, commercial litigation, corporate and securities, white collar litigation and investigations, intellectual property, construction law, investment fund services, life sciences, financial services, healthcare services, labor and employment, tax, real estate, environmental and energy, privacy and data security, technology, international matters and more.

Firm profile
We provide corporate, litigation and regulatory legal services to leading businesses, governmental entities, nonprofit organizations and individuals throughout the nation and the world. Our firm has grown from a two-person law office formed in 1890 to a sophisticated, large law firm with a national and international practice. We retain traditional values: respect for the rule of law, pride in an excellent work product and commitment to the client’s cause. Pepper Hamilton is a diverse firm of men and women from a broad spectrum of backgrounds, united in these values. We use the breadth of our practices and the depth of our experience to help clients solve problems and realize business goals.

Recruitment details
• Number of 1st year associates: 15
• Number of 2nd year associates: 28
• Associate salaries: 1st year: Varies by office. $150,000 in Philadelphia; $160,000 in Boston, California and New York
• 2nd year: Varies by office
• Clerking policy: Yes

Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2016:
We recruit from top national and regional law schools, as well as at diversity job fairs. Recruiting focus is based on which offices plan to host summer programs each year. In 2015, we conducted on campus interviews at the following schools: Boston College, Boston University, Cornell University, Drexel University, Fordham University, Georgetown University, Harvard University, Howard University, The Pennsylvania State University, Rutgers University – Camden, Suffolk University, Temple University, University of California - Irvine, UCLA, University of Pennsylvania, Univeresity of Southern California, University of Virginia, Villanova University, and Washington & Lee University.

Summer details
Summer associate profile:

We recruit candidates with strong academic credentials; superior writing and analytical abilities; excellent interpersonal skills; and law review, journal and/or moot court experience.

Summer program components:
Summer associates learn all aspects of what makes Pepper Hamilton a special place to start their careers. They immediately become part of teams to help solve sophisticated problems for our clients. Each summer associate is assigned a partner and an associate mentor to ensure a successful summer experience. We provide regular training programs and specific feedback on each assignment to ensure summer associates leave the firm ready to be attorneys at Pepper Hamilton.