East side to the West side, Pillsbury is pushin' growth, focusing on its platforms in New York and San Francisco in particular.
COAST to coast, Pillsbury is the firm with the most... lovely reputation. The resounding response when we asked why associates were drawn to the firm was “the people, frankly.” Associates were “aware of Pillsbury as a Top 100 law firm, but ultimately the priority was how I was being treated and having a decent work-life balance,” one junior recalled. Attorneys reckoned it came down to the firm's Cali roots: “It really has a West Coast vibe here. The firm was started in San Francisco and it has really stayed true to those roots.”
“It really has a West Coast vibe here.”
Nowadays, the firm has 20 offices worldwide, 14 of which span the US (with DC being the largest). However, the firm-wide Cali vibe led sources to describe the atmosphere as “not internally competitive” and “good-natured.” Despite the firm's friendly reputation, it's certainly not a place where juniors coast. “Pillsbury had a reputation for giving younger associates big tasks early on. They let you do as much as they think you can handle, which is great.” The firm excels on a nationwide basis in areas such as aviation finance and regulation; outsourcing; food and beverages; and nuclear energy (as evidenced by high Chambers USA rankings). Its construction work is also rated highly in California and DC, while its insurance and technology and outsourcing expertise really shines in the latter location.
Pillsbury’s Big Apple, San Fran and DC offices housed the majority of the juniors on our list; LA and Silicon Valley took on a handful each, while Austin, Houston, Northern Virginia, Sacramento and San Diego scooped up one or two. Litigation and corporate and securities were the most populated groups, but juniors could be found elsewhere too, in practices including real estate, finance, global sourcing, public practices, environmental and IP. Most groups adopt a free-market approach to work assignment, and interviewees tended to agree that this system “allows you to work with the partners with whom you have more of an affinity.” On top of that, juniors praised the cross-office staffing element to assignment, and told us that “there's a program where you can go to another office if you're working with attorneys based there, and the firm will pay for your stay for a week.”
Our corporate interviewees had worked on everything from classic M&A transactions (which are usually “big and time-consuming”) to security offerings, debt and equity issuances, and some venture financings. Juniors had picked up a range of drafting experience “on registration statuses, prospectus supplements and private financing agreements,” but also oversaw the usual due diligence and coordination elements of deals. Interviewees found they were able to “learn by repetition – I was exposed to the same type of deal a lot so ended up getting a lot of responsibility on that type. I ended up running issuances for the client myself!” The New York office reportedly handles “a lot of work for utility companies,” which comes with its own unique challenges as “utility companies are heavily regulated.” Sources there praised the “steady workflow” and the chance to “get specific industry experience.” In DC, interviewees noted doing a lot of work for real estate investment trusts, while in San Fran associates had been exposed to investment fund and startup work.
Corporate clients: AT&T, HOYA Corporation and The Raine Group. Recently advised telecoms company Sprint Corporation's lead financial adviser, The Raine Group, on its announced $59 billion combination with T-Mobile US.
The firm’s litigation group covers all corners, although particular areas are more prominent in certain offices. For example, DC sources highlighted a large insurance practice, where attorneys often represent policyholders against insurance companies. In San Fran, we were told that litigation leans more toward IP trademark and copyright matters for “clients ranging from smaller startups to big national brands.” On the whole, juniors reported conducting research and drafting memorandums, as well as helping with discovery, attending depositions and “chipping in with the prep for them.” In addition, sources reflected that “cases are often leanly staffed, which gives people more opportunities to do substantive tasks.” This interviewee concluded: “I don’t feel like I’m just doing the same thing over and over again. I can clearly see how what I’m doing affects the game plan.”
Litigation clients: BNY Mellon, Bombardier and Airbus. Recently represented New York University during a $1.47 billion litigation that arose after the university was denied insurance coverage for losses caused by Superstorm Sandy in 2012.
An encouraging sign for juniors was that “most partners I work with are partners that came up the ranks. They follow through on the fact that they'd like to grow people to partner, if that's the route you are inclined to take,” an associate in DC reported. Sources also mentioned being able to devote some of their time to business development activities: “It could be things like direct pitches or events with clients, to general networking and being involved in the broader legal community. They encourage us from early in our career to consider these things.” When it comes to reputation and prestige, sources commented that “the firm has the most name recognition in the Bay Area, which is great for the associates there, but in New York and DC the firm has more work to do; the firm recognizes that, and has been talking about building growth and name recognition in different US markets.”
Strategy & Future
So what's the big picture? Firm chair David Dekker explains: “Five years from now we would like to be within the 50 largest law firms in the world, measured by revenue. This would involve growing to more than 1,000 lawyers, recording $1 billion of revenue, and cultivating a fuller international platform.”
“Our revenue is up substantially year-on-year.”
Returning to where the firm is at now and its immediate plans, Dekker adds that “our revenue is up substantially year-on-year. We’ve also had a number of lateral partners join us in addition to conducting strong rounds of internal promotions. While we’re focused on growing over the entire platform, we have put a particular emphasis on growing our New York and San Francisco offices; we’re moving to new offices in New York in spring 2019, and have taken on additional space in that location.” For more from Dekker, click on the 'Bonus Features' tab above for our full interview with him.
Diversity & Inclusion
“There's work to be done with regards to both racial and gender representation in our office,” San Fran sources revealed. At the same time they acknowledged that “the firm is very much focused on” improving the situation.New York juniors highlighted a similar problem in their office, whereas their counterparts in LA and DC agreed that “the representation and support for women is very strong, plus we’re getting better at representing minorities too.”
Across the board, interviewees agreed “you can see that people are happy here.” Many put this down to the flexibility the firm affords its attorneys: “People have other stuff going on in their lives that they can attend to rather than being here all the time,” reported a source in New York. “If I need to stay home because the super is coming to fix something, I can work from home. No one gives it a second thought as long as you’re reachable.” Another source jokingly put it this way: “I didn't want to go to a place where I would never see the sunlight ever again!”
“It’s not internally competitive.”
While this approach was felt to be pretty consistent across the offices, some did point out that Pillsbury’s patchwork of legacy mergers meant that differences could be detected between offices: “Going to the New York office is like going to a different firm in some ways. The LA office is known in particular for being more casual, whereas New York is more formal.” That said, sources added “this is changing over time; all of the offices are becoming more integrated and taking on the San Francisco feel.” And what is that feel like? “It’s a very relaxed atmosphere. It’s not internally competitive, in terms of workflow and the interpersonal atmosphere. There is a focus on billable hours but people aren’t hounding you over it! Plus there aren’t a lot of the personality clashes that you hear about in high-stress environments.”
Pillsbury recently changed its policy on pro bono hours: previously, attorneys could count unlimited pro bono hours towards their billable target, but the firm has recently implemented a 'soft' 300-hour cap (soft in that 300 hours are guaranteed for billable credit, but beyond that additional pro bono hours go through an approval process). Sources felt this development was “pretty unfortunate” and that the timing of the decision (in the middle of the year) put them in a tricky position,especially if they’d already committed to a lengthy project that they assumed would be counted entirely as billable. However, we did hear of an associate who’d been working on an hours-heavy death row case and was given a “waver” to go devote over 300 hours to it.
In spite of these developments, interviewees agreed that Pillsbury is still “extremely committed” to pro bono, and all attorneys are required to do at least 25 hours a year. “I think the average attorney does almost 70 hours,” a San Fran interviewee told us, but a few of our sources had already gone over 200. They added that “the firm is very supportive of associates working on both pro bono that is presented to them, as well as sourcing their own pro bono work.”
Pro bono hours
- For all US attorneys: 41,376
- Average per US attorney: 78
Hours & Compensation
On top of the changes to pro bono hours, the bonus system also changed in response to the wider compensation shift that hit the market in the summer of 2018. Pillsbury didn’t match the base salary increases, but did give its attorneys the opportunity to earn a market salary if they hit 2,000 hours by the end of the year; a bonus payout would then bump their base salary up to market. Those who were on track to reach 2,000 creditable hours (which include approved pro bono and 'internal legal hours' on top of client billable work) by the end of June 2018 received one half of the supplemental bonus in July. If they went on to meet or exceed 2,000 hours, they were paid the remaining half of the supplemental bonus following year end. Those who were not on track in June but subsequently billed 2,000 hours for the full year subsequently qualified for the full bonus amount.
“Frankly, we weren’t happy about it,” sources admitted, with one telling us: “The truth is, a lot of attorneys don’t hit their hours, so they are getting paid less than lawyers at other firms. This problem is specific to both particular offices and practices.” The litigators we spoke to were generally confident about hitting the target regardless of location, but for those in corporate and securities the view depended on the office: in DC, for example, interviewees felt their group was busy enough to give them enough hours, but in New York sources resigned themselves to statements like this: “I’m not going to make the bonus this year, so I’m not even worried about what exactly the setup is!”
Hours & Compensation
Day-to-day, most interviewees reported starting between 9am and 10am, and leaving the office at around 7pm. When it’s busier, juniors told us that “folks do whatever it takes to get things done.” For corporate and securities attorneys, this can mean spending “a lot of time working from home after that,” while some resilient litigators preferred to stay put in the office: “On average I leave by 10pm. There are some 2am finishes, but not all that often. New York has a more intense work culture compared to other cities!”
In New York there was a lot of immigration work available through organizations like Kids in Need of Defense, while those in DC commented on close connections with the DC Legal Aid Society; LA juniors had focused on adoption matters and in San Fran we heard about attorneys assisting domestic violence clinics, overseeing criminal record expungement cases and “traveling to South Dakota to do a polling place monitoring project.”
Prior to joining, associates had heard that “Pills has a rep for being a family-friendly place.” And upon joining, sources found this wasn't just hearsay: “BigLaw can be tough on folks, but I could see that the partners and associates who had children were still able to be active in their non-work lives, which was important to me,” a DC interviewee commented.
Diversity & Inclusion
Interviewees drew our attention to the firm’s women's attorney network and its committee for the advancement of women, which juniors praised highly: “It involves those at both the associate and the executive level, and focuses on getting women associates all the way from law school to the firm, so that they can feel happy and that they can advance here if they want.” The group hosts talks and video conferences, which often include interviews with female partners who share advice on “how to get by in business, as well as the ways in which gender has impacted their path.” There are also breakfasts (varying in regularity depending on office) to “chat about gender-related topics.” Sources highlighted that “at least our last two partner classes have been 50% women or higher” (2018’s was 50%, while 2017’s was 75%). After the success of this initiative, the firm is looking to “take that same structure and replicate it to address the level of ethnic minority diversity.”
On the whole, sources felt that “there are a lot of formal and informal opportunities for development here.” The highlight was Pillsbury University, the internal training program that “offers really basic training all the way up to very specific CLE-type training for experts in specific areas.” Many found it “great knowing you can jump on any training, especially as a first-year.” On top of that, there's a formal mentorship program, which pairs new associates with an associate mentor and a partner mentor: “The firm provides budget to get coffee or lunch and meet regularly to discuss your development.” In addition, “there’s a free market-type mentorship system; people are willing to take time out to get a coffee and explain how to complete an assignment well or send you precedents set by projects they’ve worked on before,” said one cheery San Fran interviewee.
Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP
- Head Office: New York, NY
- Number of domestic offices: 14
- Number of international offices: 5
- Worldwide revenue: $645,866,000
- Partners (US): 292
- Associates (US): 250
- 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 2019: 29
- Clerking policy: Yes
- Summers joining/anticipated 2019:
- 2Ls: 28
- Summers joining/anticipated 2019 split by office:
- Austin: 1; Houston: 1; LA: 4; NYC: 8; San Francisco: 4; Silicon Valley: 3; Northern Virginia: 2; DC: 5
- Summer salary 2019:
- 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
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.
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.
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; Brooklyn; Columbia; Duke; Fordham; George Mason; George Washington; Georgetown; Harvard; Hofstra; Howard University; Loyola Law School; University of Michigan; Northwestern; New York University; University of Pennsylvania; Santa Clara; Stanford; University of Southern California; University of Texas; University of Virginia; University of San Diego
Recruitment outside OCIs:
Cornell DC and NY Fairs; Duke in San Francisco; Lavender Law; Loyola Chicago (Patent); MABLSA; Penn Law Regional Interview Program; 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 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.
Linkedin: Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP
This Firm's Rankings in
USA Guide, 2019
- Construction (Band 2)
- Environment (Band 3)
District of Columbia
- Construction (Band 1)
- Environment (Band 4)
- Insurance: Policyholder (Band 2)
- Technology & Outsourcing (Band 1)
- Telecom, Broadcast & Satellite Recognised Practitioner
- Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation (Band 4)
- Technology & Outsourcing (Band 3)
- Tax (Band 3)
- Corporate/M&A (Band 2)
- Intellectual Property (Band 2)
- Insurance (Band 4)
- Technology: Outsourcing (Band 3)
USA - Nationwide
- Construction (Band 2)
- Energy: Nuclear (Regulatory & Litigation) (Band 2)
- Environment (Band 4)
- Food & Beverages: Alcohol (Band 2)
- Government Contracts (Band 3)
- Government Relations (Band 3)
- Insurance: Dispute Resolution: Policyholder (Band 4)
- International Trade: CFIUS Experts Recognised Practitioner
- International Trade: Export Controls & Economic Sanctions (Band 3)
- International Trade: Trade Remedies & Trade Policy Recognised Practitioner
- Outsourcing (Band 1)
- Retail (Band 2)
- Startups & Emerging Companies (Band 4)
- Transportation: Aviation: Finance (Band 3)
- Transportation: Aviation: Regulatory (Band 2)