It's not just dough that keeps Pillsbury's attorneys happy – the relatively relaxed culture, interesting practices and tight-knit office network are also key ingredients.
DIG around Pillsbury's website and you'll find a brochure titled 'The people here are really nice: and other nasty rumors about us.' It's full of wry observations like “associates are just as valued as partners: it's hard to know whom to kiss up to,” and plays up the firm's reputation as one of BigLaw's cuddlier beasts to the nth degree. Chairman David Dekker explains: “Our hope is that money is not the only glue holding the firm together, this should also be a great place to come to work.”
Our associate sources assured us it's not all firm-generated hype, having “noticed a lot of attorneys have been here their entire career. The people here are very welcoming and I'm genuinely happy to see them every day.” But these nice guys don't tend to finish last: cream of the crop Chambers USA rankings for IP, construction, technology and outsourcing stand out among others spanning corporate/M&A, insurance and more. Perhaps the firm's California heritage is what makes this a "pretty relaxed" place to be, despite all this success and expansion across 14 US offices – DC is now the largest base. An appealing array of practice areas and a commitment to diversity make this an attractive place to work.
Litigation and corporate are the two most common newcomer destinations, but other groups including environment, executive comp, finance, IP, real estate and public practices in DC recruit one or two juniors each year. In most departments, work assignment involves “a bit of both partners approaching you and vice versa; it's more informal than at some other firms.” A partner oversees associates' workloads in larger teams to make sure nobody's got too much on their plate, and “partners tend to be very on top of who's doing what. We submit self-assessments to let them know what we can and would like to take on.” Through this, our interviewees could guide their practice in the direction they chose.
“A lot of work comes from semiconductors and startups."
Open-minded corporate juniors tended to play the field initially, flirting with M&A, funds, venture capital and startup work. “Companies come to us as a one-stop shop,” they explained, with clients varying from local institutions to multinational big hitters. Down in future-focused Silicon Valley “a lot of work comes from semiconductors and startups, but we also have some public clients.” Newbies cut their teeth assisting partners and handling diligence, before progressing to drafting and direct client contact. “We get a lot of hands-on experience here. I think if that's what a junior's looking for then Pillsbury is the best place to do that.” Happy with their progress, sources pointed out: “Early responsibility is the best way to learn. We staff leanly so there's never a moment I'm wasting my time.”
Insurance, antitrust, real estate, white-collar and classic commercial litigation are all up for grabs for young litigators. The clientele here is similarly varied, with a tech leaning in California especially (“a lot of young tech startups come in on the corporate side, then we help them with litigation matters”). Practice area teams tend to be smaller than the BigLaw norm, so “you don't always get as varied a workload as in a place with 50 partners doing different things,” but on the plus side “juniors get a lot of experience early on.” Most moved quickly from research and document review to drafting reports and briefs, with some also logging court appearances.
Encouraged to push themselves, interviewees told us: “I haven't been spoon-fed, but folks are really patient with me asking questions. I've really been able to take control of tasks given to me.” The story was similar in smaller departments, from which associates reported: “You progress based on the ability you demonstrate rather than your class level” and took “sometimes terrifying” early responsibility in their stride.
Training & Development
On top of training by doing (“the really helpful side,” according to some), first-years are all enrolled at Pillsbury University (PU), the firm's practice area-tailored CLE training department. “The corporate group is big on monthly classes,” while litigators can have a go at NITA's mock trial program – one junior declared it “very good, you have three really intense days to put things together.” First-years can count 150 hours of PU training toward their billable requirements.
Following an informal midyear self-evaluation with two partners, associates go through a more rigorous end-of-year process centered on “business development goals – it's a useful exercise.” Some had a “mixed experience” with immediate feedback, but others reported: “It's rare I don't hear back from the partner about a piece of work I've submitted.” The firm also runs a mentorship scheme which, aside from some complaints about delays replacing departed mentors, came in for praise.
Pillsbury has a history of promoting female talent – it was the first Am Law 100firm to be led by a woman, and one of the first to extend benefits to same-sex domestic partners. Living up to that legacy, 75% of the incoming 2017 partner class were women, and five of the firm's offices have female managing partners. Associates also commended “good alternative work arrangements for lawyers with children” and “a strong LGBT initiative.” Every other year an 'attorneys of color' conference takes place and in 2017 the firm launched an LGBT retreat too. “It ended with a practical discussion of steps we could take to recruit people from diverse backgrounds and help them progress. There've been some good ideas of how we can do better.” With some way still to go, “the firm's willingness to put on events and contribute to causes has never been in question.”
75% of the incoming 2017 partner class were women, and five of the firm's offices have female managing partners.
Offices & Culture
San Francisco is the firm's birthplace (on the West Coast, at least), and its base there is “in an older building, but the views are fantastic." Silicon Valley's newer office is contrastingly “more like a startup: we have video game machines in a collaborative area. the snacks are great, we get fed so well!” Over on the East Coast, the New York base's Times Square location “can be annoying, I sometimes don't leave until after 8pm when the streets are emptier,” whereas DC's “location and facilities are top-notch. We can go up on the roof to hang out.” Juniors agreed the firm has “worked very hard to integrate its offices,” with a lot of collaboration in corporate and finance in particular. There's an incentive structure that rewards partners who staff matters across offices, which sources felt had “helped build the one-firm culture” since the legacy firms came together.
"Before starting here I bought some new suits as I anticipated being in one every day,” one source recounted. “I was simultaneously pleased and disappointed to find we're a business casual firm!” Some felt this was “reflective of the California roots of the Pillsbury wing,” but New Yorkers reported: “The culture here is more similar to Big Apple firms. Hitting billable targets is really pushed, but everyone still gets along really well.” What do juniors put the firm's famous friendliness down to? “People seem to care about Pillsbury because most started as summers,” they reasoned, plus “you work directly with partners a lot so it's not super hierarchical.”
“You work directly with partners a lot so it's not super hierarchical.”
Associates get pretty chummy too, with one shamelessly declaring: “We're an awesome group! There's a lot of camaraderie and goodwill to each other, and not a lot of cattiness, which is important working in law.” Happy hours and outings “both organized and impromptu” provide opportunities for out-of-hours socializing, and juniors revealed: “We're trying to do more bonding events.” As well as post-work soirées, the firm also hosts regular meetings to run associates through current and projected financials. There's also a yearly “road to partnership” session, and while “making partner isn't an easy slam dunk, we hire small classes for a reason and it's a real possibility” for those who want it.
With no cap on the number of pro bono hours associates can bill, all attorneys are expected to contribute 25 hours annually. “The firm really pushes it, you can grow skills and give back at the same time” via monthly legal pitstop clinics and citizenship workshops as well as pro bono matters. Immigration and asylum cases have become particularly commonplace under the Trump administration. On top of that, corporate juniors worked pro bono for fledgling startups –“something that's definitely championed" – and Pillsbury's different offices collaborate on fundraising with local organizations.
Pro bono hours
- for all attorneys across all US offices: 42,216
- average per US attorney: 79.4
Hours & Compensation
A firm-wide billing target of 1,950 sits between thresholds of 1,900 hours to earn half the market bonus and 2,000 to get the full monty. First-years might struggle to get over the bar, but after that “there's more than enough work to go around, especially within corporate.” Associates pointed out that “the cross-office firm structure means you can get work from anywhere across the country,” and while “the requirements are important, if you're showing up and doing good work but billing 1,800 hours nobody will kick you out.”
“It's really helped me keep my sanity.”
7pm was the average home time for associates, within a wide range. “I've been fortunate to not have a ton of weekend or super late night work,” one said, “it's really helped me keep my sanity.” Pillsbury offers four weeks paid vacation; we heard “the firm is so flexible” and encourages juniors to take a decent amount of time off.
Strategy & Future
Chairman David Dekker tells us Pillsbury's“had 18 strong lateral partners join the firm during 2017,” but suggests these and the opening of a new Miami office are “focused strategic additions, not an indication that we are looking to open a number of new offices over the coming year.” The firm's been embroiled in high-profile merger talks three times over the last few years. Dekker explains: “Most firms in today's market would say merging is a possibility, but we don't feel compelled to merge. Certainly, we'd like to improve the breadth and depth of certain practices, and if there was a proposed combination that made that possible we wouldn't rule it out.”
“Obviously everyone walking in the door” to interviews “will be smart; what we tend to look for in a candidate is someone who's also personable and happy to work long hours.” That's particularly crucial at Pillsbury as “we don't take hundreds of first-years at a time, so there's nowhere to stick people we don't like!” Other good qualities include “leadership experience and language skills, anything that will make us look at your resume and want to talk to you – there's no one single formula.” One source who'd conducted interviews revealed: “It's always interesting to see what the candidate did in their 1L summer and if they can articulate why they chose to,” but at the same time “don't get too involved in something to the detriment of your grades.”
Interviews focus on assessing these qualities and “making sure the candidate has reasonable expectations of what it's like to be a BigLaw attorney.” Make sure you come in with examples to demonstrate the qualities you possess. “When interviewing I ask what adversity they've faced – it doesn't have to be a life or death situation, but I'd like to hear about how they work through challenges.” Interest in a particular practice area might prompt “questions about current events in the sector and your views,” and while Pillsbury's known for its pleasant culture, associates told us “OCIs can be a pretty brutal 15 minutes!”
It's crucial to make sure you've done your homework, as “people can tell if you've not looked up the firm at all, it becomes obvious very quickly,” but at the same time sources told us not to “over-research – we understand you don't know everything about what the firm does, we want to know about you.” Finally, when it was time to pick a firm, they recommended: “Focus on the people and where you'll be happiest,” which they (perhaps displaying a tad of bias) felt gave Pillsbury an edge over the competition.
Interview with chairman David Dekker
Chambers Associate: What have been the firm's highlights of 2017?
David Dekker: First off, we had the opening of a new office in Miami, which is an important market for a number of our individual practice areas. It also supports our cross-border and inbound work generally, and growing ambitions in Latin America. In the Middle East, we've done additional hiring in the UAE and opened a new office in Dubai that ensures we have an established presence in the free trade zone. These are focused strategic additions, not an indication that we are looking to open a number of new offices over the coming year, but they do demonstrate our commitment to ensuring we’re in markets that align with our practice strengths. We have also had 18 strong lateral partners join the firm during 2017, across our platform. I'm also very happy to say we received the Chambers 2017 Law Firm of the Year for Furthering Women's Career Progression award.
CA: The firm's Hong Kong office has already turned a profit within its first year – what do you think that says about the firm?
DD: We do have aspirations to be an increasingly global firm, although I don't see us opening scores of new offices or bolting on a number of new practice groups. The success in Hong Kong comes down to a recognition on our part that we needed to be competitive by focusing on areas we could immediately be strong in, rather than simply throwing our hat into the capital markets ring. There are some practices, such as transportation finance, in which we're already top of the heap and so can compete effectively.
CA: Mergers have been hinted at a few times in recent years: is Pillsbury actively looking to merge in the near future?
DD: Most firms in today's market would say merging is a possibility, but we don't feel compelled to merge. We have a rock-solid balance sheet, with no debt, and are having a good year. Certainly, we'd like to improve the breadth and depth of certain practices, and if there was a proposed combination that made that possible we wouldn't rule it out. A lot of firms are considering mergers as a means of becoming more global, but we don't feel compelled to go down that road.
CA: Last year you highlighted the firm's major strengths – energy & natural resources, financial services, real estate & construction, technology and travel & hospitality. Which of those in particular do you see growing in the near future?
DD: We would like to grow our offering in all those areas. Realistically based on our progress this year, the fastest-paced sector of growth is technology – that is of course a very broad area. We remain committed to all of those sectors and I expect to see us grow them all in future, but realistically technology has been the flagship growth area of the past year.
CA: What makes Pillsbury's culture distinctive from that of other firms?
DD: I think Chambers Associate's Inside View of the firm is a pretty accurate summary. Culture is important to all firms, but there are differences between them. We've always had a culture that's open at partnership level, and completely transparent in terms of finances and compensation. We don't want our attorneys to feel like cogs in a machine. Valuing work/life balance. We of course want to compete at the highest levels, but recognize that people need something more. Our hope is that money is not the only glue holding the firm together, and that this should be a great place to come to work.
CA: In keeping with the firm's distinct culture, is there a certain type of person you look to recruit?
DD: I suspect it isn't much different from other firms. We want motivated high performers looking to excel and do cutting-edge client work, and who can also integrate into a cooperative, respectful environment. We are looking for people to collaborate, not step on each other. We emphasize that in today’s world, there is no inconsistency between being a high performer and being collaborative with your colleagues. Bigger transactions and cases demand attorneys who work with their colleagues across offices and practice areas.
CA: Given the firm's geographical spread and different legacy firms, how have you ensured a one-firm culture?
DD: It is a continuing challenge that begins with both the executive team and board of directors articulating their expectations to the partnership. Diversity is important to us – we've won a number of awards for our support of working mothers, and allow individuals to have successful careers while being parents and pursuing other interests. It's not an easy balance, and we demand a lot of our attorneys as all firms do, but we're looking for lawyers to also do well in all aspects of their lives.
CA: If you could give any advice to a student looking to go into the law or to join Pillsbury, what would it be?
DD: Being a lawyer in a large firm remains a challenging and rewarding career. I sometimes read in various press reports and so on that there's little allure in being a BigLaw attorney today, but I think the path continues to provide a very interesting and challenging lifestyle. A person can have both a dynamic career and pursue outside interests – life within large firms has something of a bad reputation on that front, but it's certainly possible and encouraged here.
Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP
- Head Office: New York, NY
- Number of domestic offices: 14
- Number of international offices: 7
- Worldwide revenue: $589,472,000
- Partners (US): 297
- Associates (US): 245
- Main recruitment contact: Charles Curtis, Firmwide Director of Attorney Recruiting (firstname.lastname@example.org)
- Hiring partner: Mariah Brandt
- Diversity officer: Rosa Walker, Director of Diversity and Inclusion
- Recruitment details
- Entry-level associates starting in 2018: 37
- Clerking policy: Yes
- Summers joining/anticipated 2018:
- 2Ls: 33
- Summers joining/anticipated 2018 split by office:
- Austin: 2; LA: 2; NYC: 7; San Francisco: 5; Silicon Valley: 2; Northern Virginia: 3; DC: 12
- Summer salary 2018:
- 1Ls: $3,462/week
- 2Ls: $3,462/week
- Split summers offered? Yes, but not preferred
- Can summers spend time in an overseas office? Case-by-case
Main areas of work
Regulatory: Whether working with a startup, a company in growth mode or a market leader, Pillsbury’s lawyers help companies limit risk, achieve compliance, defend against investigations, advocate for new laws and challenge restrictions.
Litigation: Pillsbury’s litigators handle complex commercial cases, matters of public interest, intellectual property challenges, tax controversies, insurance policyholder disputes, environmental claims, securities class actions, construction disputes and a wide variety of other assignments.
Business: Pillsbury’s business teams partner with clients to help find capital, organize new companies, secure patents, purchase real estate, negotiate contracts, challenge competitors, guide investments, protect data, limit liability, outsource support services, minimize taxes, establish policies and expand markets.
University of California, Berkeley; University of California, Hastings; University of California, Irvine; University of California, Los Angeles; University of Chicago; Columbia; Duke; Fordham; George Washington; Georgetown; Harvard; Hofstra; Howard University; Loyola Law School; University of Michigan; Northwestern; New York University; University of Pennsylvania; Stanford; University of Southern California; University of Texas; University of Virginia
Recruitment outside OCIs:
Cornell DC and NY Fairs; Duke in San Francisco; Lavender Law; Loyola Chicago (Patent); MABLSA; West Coast BLSA; Vanderbilt Fair; William & Mary Greater DC interviews; National Law Consortium DC
Summer associate profile:
Pillsbury seeks energetic, high-performing students who possess sound judgment, determination, common sense, excellent interpersonal skills, the ability to inspire confidence and the drive to produce high quality work and achieve outstanding results.
Summer program components:
Pillsbury’s summer associates experience the firm’s collaborative style by working side-by-side with attorneys in a variety of practice areas, on industry and client teams and on issue-specific projects. Pillsbury University offers training on everything from legal writing to client service basics to effective networking. Formal reviews supplement the extemporaneous feedback provided to summer associates by our lawyers.
Linkedin: Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP
This Firm's Rankings in
Chambers USA Guide 2017
- Banking & Finance Recognised Practitioner
- Construction (Band 2)
- Environment (Band 3)
- Tax (Band 3)
District of Columbia
- Construction (Band 1)
- Corporate/M&A & Private Equity Recognised Practitioner
- Environment (Band 4)
- Insurance: Policyholder (Band 2)
- Technology & Outsourcing (Band 1)
- Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation (Band 4)
- Technology & Outsourcing (Band 2)
- Corporate/M&A (Band 5)
- Corporate/M&A (Band 2)
- Intellectual Property (Band 2)
- Corporate/M&A Recognised Practitioner
- Technology: Outsourcing (Band 2)
USA - Nationwide
- Construction (Band 3)
- Energy: Nuclear (Regulatory & Litigation) (Band 2)
- Environment (Band 4)
- Food & Beverages: Alcohol (Band 2)
- Government Contracts (Band 3)
- Government Relations (Band 4)
- Insurance: Dispute Resolution: Policyholder (Band 4)
- International Trade: Export Controls & Economic Sanctions (Band 3)
- Outsourcing (Band 1)
- Retail (Band 3)
- Startups & Emerging Companies (Band 4)
- Transportation: Aviation: Finance (Band 3)
- Transportation: Aviation: Regulatory (Band 2)