Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP - The Inside View

Pillsbury won't be defined by its Cali roots, but it's hard to find a BigLaw firm with a pleasanter culture...

PILLSBURY is a name associated with dough, but in BigLaw circles it signifies a leading California-founded firm known for its tasty work/life balance and toothsome practices. “There are a lot of laterals who move here from other big firms,” associates pointed out. “They come for the better hours, which are part of the more relaxed workplace culture here.” It's also known for kneading and shaping (as it were) excellent diversity, and was for example the first Am Law100 firm to be led by a woman, and one of the first to extend benefits to same-sex domestic partners.

The above must of course be mixed with a pinch of salt before baking – we're in no way saying that Pillsbury lawyers don't work hard. This firm is still a judicial juggernaut – with 13 US offices and five overseas – and also counts some mega clients in its roster, including Amazon, Visa and Disney. Many customers are served by various practice groups, “which is kind of Pillsbury's motto: we try to be a one-stop shop for clients.” Chambers USA recognizes this versatility and awards the firm upper crust ratings in energy, environment, corporate/M&A, tax, and real estate, among others. The cherries on the icing (Band 1 rankings) are for construction, technology, outsourcing, IP, and transportation work.

The Work

When it comes to assignments for junior lawyers, “generally it's a free market thing – you do something for someone and you just end up mostly working with them.” That said, efforts have been made to formalize the process, especially for transactional newbies, who felt that “sometimes senior lawyers were unaware of how much we had on our plates.” As a result, about a year ago the firm introduced a “first-year firmwide assignment portal – you enter what you've billed and what you're going to bill next week and it gets sent around everywhere so people have an idea about your capacity.”

“You do something for someone and you just end up mostly working with them.”

Perhaps the transactional confusion was down to the fact that newcomers are given the freedom to move between teams in order to get a flavor of the different practices. Indeed, in the firm's bigger offices – DC, New York and San Francisco – there is emphasis placed on allowing juniors a choice. As one Big Apple attorney explained: “I was initially unsure about what I wanted to go into and they consulted me on my callback and when I started and asked if I'd be comfortable joining a certain department.”

Those departments include corporate & securities (where most first-years were based at the time of our calls), as well as: litigation; global sourcing; environmental; public practices; IP; communications; real estate; insolvency; finance; estates & trusts; and tax – though smaller offices only offer a handful of these. The corporate department is split pretty evenly between capital markets and M&A work. Associates' work encompasses “all the things you'd expect from a first-year: making a checklist, drafting ancillary documents and officer certificates, and dealing with signature pages.” However, while this might not seem like the stuff of fairy tales, sources were keen to stress that “they make sure you get a good grounding so when you enter your second year you can start running smaller deals.”

Litigation encompasses white collar, insurance recovery and “a lot of construction and real estate disputes.” As with most practices, responsibility levels vary greatly from office to office. In DC – where litigation is the biggest group – juniors can expect their first years to involve “a substantial amount of doc review and researching.” However, most were pragmatic about this: “I think everyone would say I wish I could be in trial more, but I'm still in the early stages of my career and it's important to build the skills.” In LA and the smaller offices things are a little more accelerated: “From early on I was drafting several motions on construction defects cases and other big financial services-related litigation.”


Some associates attributed Pillsbury's more relaxed approach (compared to some BigLaw firms) to the firm's Californian heritage. Moreover, especially in practices like real estate, “a lot of the firm's clients are based in and around San Francisco and it contributes to a much more contemporary business culture. I'm not in a suit and tie every day – if I'm meeting my direct partners I won't even put my jacket on.” That said, DC attorneys were keen to assert their office's influence within the network: “I think the Cali thing can be a bit over-egged sometimes. It's an important part of our history but DC's our biggest office and it's very much a center of gravity.” The fact that it's bigger than the “more work hard, play hard” New York office means it “sets the tone for the East Coast as a whole in terms of culture.”

“I'm not in a suit and tie every day.”

There are a lot of lawyers with young families at Pillsbury so there's more of a focus on work/life balance and perhaps less on the happy hours,” sources told us. That's not to say that the firm's attorneys don't get together, but when they do it's more of a civilized affair. The following response was pretty typical: “I've met everyone in my team's families and been to dinner at their houses. We work in small groups and I think that's pretty indicative of the firm as a whole.” In New York, “there's a happy hour every other week in the break room, which has a pool table and music.” San Francisco's attorneys are probably the most sociable nationwide bunch, and the office's associate development committee puts on mixers and charity fundraising events like “trivia and casino nights, where all the proceeds go to charity.”

Training & Development

First-years are all enrolled at Pillsbury University (PU) but don't worry, you won't be asked to re-don mortarboard and gown: this is simply the name of the firm's in-house CLE training department that caters for specific practice areas. While some sources found it “incredibly useful for touching up on things you'd forgotten from law school,” others questioned how practical lecture-based learning was: “As with a lot of legal training, I don't think the format is the most helpful. It's usually someone just talking at you for 15 minutes. I think I've learned the most from being involved on deals and doing some high-level tasks, which is something that happens early on here.” Perhaps the most popular feature of the PU curriculum is that first-years are allowed to bill 150 hours of the training as billable work.

“I've learned the most from being involved on deals.”

Pillsbury also has a much-lauded mentorship scheme – “we all get a partner mentor when we join, someone you don't directly work with so you always feel comfortable reaching out to them, and vice versa. It's not like some firms that say they believe in mentorship: here they really care about personal and professional development.” Tales of senior lawyers going the extra mile abounded and this one was pretty typical: “Both partners I work with do an awesome job helping me with client interaction. One of them will always drop my name in emails and make sure I get credit for the work I've done.”

Hours & Compensation

Pillsbury lawyers have a firmwide billing target of 1,950 that affects bonus eligibility as well as class advancement – “if you make 90% (1,900) of that you will advance in class year, if you don't, advancement is based on performance reviews. Making 2,000 means you're bonus eligible.” However, “these figures are by no means set in stone.” The firm offers a standard bonus and a second discretionary bonus if you hit 110% of your hours.

Pro Bono

There is no cap on the number of pro bono hours associates can bill and it all counts toward their 1,950. Juniors “get weekly updates with opportunities” and “you're given an award if you do more than 25 hours.” An unofficial target of 60 pro bono hours per associate has recently been introduced nationwide. Sources had worked on some really interesting stuff. Many in DC had worked with Kids in Need of Defense (KIND), an organization that provides unaccompanied immigrant and refugee children with representation in deportation proceedings, among other help.

Pro bono hours

  • For all US attorneys: 36,696
  • Average per US attorney: 65


With offices in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Silicon Valley, Sacramento and San Diego, it's not surprising that Pillsbury is well-known in California. However, offices in Texas, Nashville, Northern Virginia, DC, New York and Florida ensure that the firm's presence is felt coast-to-coast. The Big Apple base is in a tall building right on Times Square. A lot of interviewees had mixed thoughts about this, with more than one “getting off the subway a stop early,” because “it's not that nice having to walk through sharp elbows and naked ladies every morning!”

The DC office – the firm's biggest – is housed in “beautiful, open-plan” purpose-built surroundings right next to Farragut North metro station, “about two blocks from the White House.” LA lawyers are in a similarly A-list location occupying “three floors of a big office building downtown.” There was praise aplenty for a recent renovation that saw “new carpets laid and everyone get their own standing desk.” In the past, associates have been allowed to attend Lakers, Clippers and Dodgers games with clients thanks to Pillsbury's complimentary seats. Up north in San Francisco, attorneys will find themselves sitting on the dock of the Bay, with their office having uninhibited views of the Golden Gate and Bay Bridges.


There is certainly recognition that Pillsbury has a way to go with improving racial diversity at the firm, though there are concerted efforts in the right direction. Every three years an 'attorneys of color' conference takes place in order to bring together, foster and develop diverse talent. In terms of gender, Pillsbury has been consistently praised for its diversity and has been named in the Working Mother's'100 Best Companies List' for 11 consecutive years.

Get Hired

“We are looking for people with an interesting background, it's not just about academics...”

Pillsbury moves quick to secure its recruits. “They tend to try and get all the candidates they want from OCIs and they extend offers pretty quickly. I interviewed on Friday and got an offer on Tuesday.” Associates are involved in the interview process early on in their Pillsbury careers and offered sage advice to potential greenhorns: “We are looking for people with an interesting background, it's not just about academics – people who have experienced other careers, traveled the world or done a lot of volunteering are really valued here.”


Interview with chairman David Dekker

Chambers Associate: What are some of Pillsbury's highlights from 2017?

DD: We have had a variety of highlights thus far in 2017. 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 a number of strong lateral partners join the Firm during 2017, across our platform, spanning seasoned litigators on the West Coast, leading bank finance lawyers in London, high-profile tax and disputes practitioners in Miami and top-notch real estate dealmakers in New York.

On the client side, we have had a very active first few months in the M&A area, and in terms of the number of public securities offerings we’ve handled.  Recent transactional highlights include advising Sinclair in its multi-billion dollar acquisition of Tribune Media; a major capital raise for the developer of an innovative UAS radar technology; and helping Citi on a $1.35 billion syndicated loan for Digicel. We have also had several significant trial victories on the litigation side, including notable IP trial wins, both for Kroger in a patent case and against Walmart in a trade secret dispute; the critical denial of class action certification on behalf of Fluidmaster Inc.; and the settlement of a high-profile dispute between the Trump Organization and CZ-National.

CA:  Last year Jim Rishwain mentioned that insurance recovery, emerging growth, IP and energy had been hot practice areas for you. Which have been hot this year?

DD: Firm-wide, litigation was strong for us last year, and that continues to be the case in 2017.  As noted, we have secured significant wins in a number of cases, including at trial.  This includes cases involving energy, IP, construction, and general commercial matters.  The technology and emerging growth segments of our transactional work remain bedrock practices for us, and, with a change in the US presidency and Brexit, our regulatory practices are also busy.

We haven’t really changed our basic strategic approach in terms of the industries and practices we focus on, and are instead concentrated on building on last year's success. That means we continue to emphasize our historic strengths in the energy & natural resources, financial services, real estate & construction and technology sectors. We have also added one new industry to that focus list—travel and hospitality—as we look to bring in additional work from companies such as airlines, hotel chains, cruise lines and other participants in the broadly defined travel industry. That has traditionally been a strong client base for us and it’s one we think can grow substantially.

CA: With that in mind, where would you personally like to see the firm in five years' time?

DD: We are committed to growing the firm’s existing areas of strength and, in fact, doubling down on many of them. We are relatively happy with our geographic footprint, but would like to see more depth and breadth in certain of our practice areas and markets. I don't see us following the model of some other firms, who have been very aggressive in adding numerous additional offices. We might add an office from time to time, when it is consistent with our strategic plan, but we won’t do so simply for the sake of planting a flag in multiple additional locations. 

CA: You were the first AmLaw 100 firm to be led by a woman – is a commitment to diversity still at the core of what makes Pillsbury thrive as a firm?

DD: Absolutely.  If you look at our class of new partners this year, 75% of the elevated attorneys are women.  That number alone says a lot. We have also expanded the number of women in positions of firm leadership, either as Office Managing Partners, practice section leaders, or committee chairs. We appointed new women Office Managing Partners over the last year in San Francisco, LA, Miami, Sacramento and London.  We continue to win a number of awards as a firm for our efforts in this area.  There is real strength in diversity, and we are working to further strengthen our diversity in all respects.

CA: Some associates spoke of Pillsbury's positive 'lifestyle' elements. What does that mean to you and what do you see as their advantages?

DD: It means that we are a firm that tries to maintain a culture where people like coming to work every day.  We are proud of our transparency, and of our open management system.  We value pro bono, public service, and involvement in the community.  We are a firm that recognizes the need for a healthy work-life balance.  We very much value having a performance culture, while also demanding that everyone in the firm, in any position, be respectful of all of his/her colleagues. 

CA: How do you think Trump's election will affect the legal market?

DD: Our public policy and regulatory practices have been directly impacted by the change in administrations. Among other things, our regulatory practice has seen increased demand, as clients seek to understand the changing world.  More generally, the new administration has created an interesting situation.  We now have a number of attorneys dealing directly with the Trump administration, including one of our partners who was on the transition team.  On the other hand, we have a number of attorneys who are taking on pro bono matters which reflect opposition to various Administration policies. 

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.


Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP

1540 Broadway,
New York,
NY 10036-4039
Website www.pillsburylaw.com

  • Head Office: New York, NY 
  • Number of domestic offices: 14 
  • Number of international offices: 7
  • Worldwide revenue: $573,500,000
  • Partners (US): 309
  • Associates (US): 180
  • Summer Salary 2017  
  • 1Ls: $3,462/week
  • 2Ls: $3,462/week
  • Post 3Ls: $3,462/week
  • 1Ls hired? No
  • Split summers offered? Yes, but not preferred
  • Can summers spend time in overseas office? Case by case
  • Summers 2017: 39
  • Offers/acceptances 2016: 41 offers and 34 acceptances

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.

Firm profile
Pillsbury is a leading international law firm with a particular focus on the energy and natural resources, financial services, real estate and construction, and technology sectors. The 2017 Best Lawyers/US News & World Report survey recognized our lawyers with 80 Tier 1 rankings, and the firm was again named as one of the most innovative law firms by Financial Times. Our lawyers are highly regarded for their forward-thinking approach, enthusiasm for collaborating across disciplines and unsurpassed commercial awareness.

Recruitment details
• Number of 1st year associates: 37
• Number of 2nd year associates: 27
• Associate salaries: 1st year: $180,000
• 2nd year: $190,000
• Clerking policy: Yes

Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2017:
University of California, Berkeley; University of California, Davis; University of California, Hastings; University of California, Irvine; University of California, Los Angeles; University of Chicago; Columbia; Cornell; Duke; Fordham; George Washington; Georgetown; Harvard; Hofstra; University of Houston; 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

Summer details
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 sideby- 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.