Thanks to the California sunshine and big-name clients, associates reckoned life at Pillsbury is "as good as BigLaw gets."
ESTABLISHED after the California Gold Rush, San Francisco-based Pillsbury is one of California's original powerhouse firms. It's been through four mergers since 1990, and has been a regular in the legal press over the past few years regarding a potential merger with the likes of Orrick and Norton Rose Fulbright. These came to nought, as did rumored talks with New York-based Chadbourne & Parke in late 2015. But it's worth googling Pillsbury before your OCI to see if any new suitors are being speculated about. "Hopefully associates and others will see that any move we might make would be done to strengthen the firm and to thrive for years to come," Pillsbury's chair and CEO Jim Rishwain tells us. "Any combination we would consider would be to meet strategic objectives and gain greater depth in our sectors and markets."
Associates we interviewed highlighted the firm's roster of high profile clients, such as Chevron, Disney, VISA and Amazon. Chambers USA gives the thumbs up to a multitude of practices including construction, energy, environment, corporate/M&A, life sciences, tax, and real estate. Revenue in 2015 dipped slightly (0.5%) to $557 million but profits per partner rose 1.7% to $1.185 million. This was thanks in part to a drop in equity partners, though head count rose overall. In March 2015, Pillsbury lost a group of corporate, finance and private equity partners to Winston & Strawn, and in June three IP partners jumped ship to Sheppard Mullin. Despite this, Jim Rishwain says: "We have had our most significant year for partner growth, despite some departures early in the year. We have added 30 partners in 2015, with more additions on the near horizon." At the end of 2016, Rishwain will hand over the reins as firm chair to David Dekker, after a decade in the driving seat. Finally, in March 2016 it was reported that Pillsbury is launching a Hong Kong office.
Associates explained that “there is no formal assigning process” but that it's not “overtly competitive.” They believed that the free market encourages associates to be “outgoing” and to “let partners know what you're working on, the kind of work you're interested in, and how many hours you can spare.” On the flip side, sources found that “partners are pretty good at reaching out and doling work out fairly.” Corporate & securities was home to the most juniors at the time of our calls, but new associates are spread around a wide range of practices. These include litigation, global sourcing, environmental, public practices, IP, communications, real estate, insolvency, finance, and estates & trusts, and tax.
"There are deals where I've been the only associate.”
Corporate associates told us that “the work is pretty much a 50/50 split between capital markets and M&A,” but day-to-day tasks were “a little bit of everything.” The Silicon Valley practice assists “clients abroad – especially companies in Europe – that are looking to transition into that Silicon Valley model. As a result, they set up companies in Europe and they need our help, whether that's making a parent company in the US or a subsidiary.” Cross border work with “big Asian companies” is also up for grabs. Work for LA corporate attorneys “includes specialized M&As, debt acquisitions, private equity,” and “some compliance regulatory work for aviation and real estate.” Over in New York, juniors had tasted “underwriting, capital markets, private placements and lots of utility clients.” Associates also told us that “we staff quite leanly here,” and “on the smaller side there are deals where I've been the only associate.”
“One of the things that attracted me to litigation was that it's large enough to have its fingers in many different pies,” an associate enthused. “If somebody in real estate has a lease dispute or a construction problem they call us. If somebody is advising somebody and they get slapped with an incitement they'll call up the guys in white-collar.” Associates draft “motions, brief memos, discovery and responses,” and “persuasive documents and filings of differing length and complexity” make up the bulk of junior work. There is “also a pretty solid amount of doc review and discovery requests.” Overall, litigators were happy with their workload and that “partners give us responsibility early on. Everyone is patient and understanding; they've been here before.”
Real estate work “revolves around large institutional real estate investment trusts,” an associate explained. “It's a lot of buying large office buildings, joint ventures to hold properties, and lease work on anywhere from Twitter HQ to small office buildings all around the country.” Newbies had been asked to “review titles to see if there are any issues,” and “help revise and update agreements.” Associates also “go through surveys and title documents with a client, negotiating deals and getting documents together for closure.”
"An office straight out of an HBO show.”
With offices in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Silicon Valley, Sacramento and San Diego, it's not surprising the firm is known for its California footprint. However, offices in Texas, Nashville, Northern Virginia, Washington DC, New York and Florida ensure that the Pillsbury presence isn't limited to The Golden State. Over in the Big Apple, the Times Square location was seen “as blessing and a curse,” juniors bemoaning their “minimal lunch options, tough commute” and the unpleasant task of “wading through tourists.” However, there are “stunning views of the ball drop area.” The DC office recently moved from its HQ of 30 years to a sleeker build with “great rooftop views of the city” and “a smaller floor plan, which means you can't get through the day without interacting with everyone.”
The LA outfit looks like “an office straight out of an HBO show,” thanks to enviable views of the Hollywood Sign and the ocean. Associates and their various entourages – friends, contacts and potential clients – can also rock up to to Lakers, Clippers and Dodgers games thanks to Pillsbury's complimentary seats. The San Francisco office can be found at the far end of the financial district “near lots of shops, food stalls and a farmer's market that happens three times a week.” Like associates in LA and DC, juniors get their own “office from day one.” As “the last building before the water,” it offers “beautiful views of the Golden Gate and Bay Bridges.” Sports fans are in for a treat as Pillsbury has “a box at the Giants Ball Stadium,” where lucky associates can take “clients to games to seal the deal.”
Associates generally described the “vibe” of their office as “casual. Everyone is on a first name basis and there are social events to help departments interact.” In DC, “regular ice cream socials get people away from their desks” and there's a “jeans Friday,” which one junior told us they took “1,000% advantage of.” Day-to-day, “people with families tend to peace out at 6.30pm and then log on at home.” New Yorkers all agreed that Pillsbury is less “OTT than other firms,” adding: “This isn't a party firm.”
"Mixers and scavenger hunts.”
Similarly, Los Angeleans “prioritize going home to their families and having lives outside of the Pillsbury bubble.” The office puts on “mixers and scavenger hunts” when summer associates are around. The LA culture is “as good as BigLaw gets,” and young partners in particular “are interested in you as a person and not just an employee.” Associates in San Francisco are a sociable group – younger attorneys apparently take full advantage of the “associate happy hours” put on at local bars. The office's associate development committee runs “training and mentoring programs to get associates out and interacting.” The committee puts on “mixers” and charity fundraising events such as “a casino night where all the proceeds went to charity.”
According to associates, the ideal Pillsbury attorney is “able to work well with others. People like that do better than quiet shy types who keep themselves to themselves.” One source even said they were “praised for speaking my mind and being loud and boisterous!” We wouldn't advise too loud and boisterous, though... Others were keen to stress that people “with aggressive type A personalities won't succeed here. When you're billing long hours and everything is hitting the fan, that abrasive personality will start to wear on your co-workers.”
"Don't be afraid to knock on the door."
Associates who'd been through OCIs had some sage advice for nervous students: “Relax a little! If you're interviewing at this level you've got amazing accomplishments, so be yourself.” Candidates who haven't received an offer should “never underestimate the power of calling up the firm. Don't be afraid to knock on the door and say 'I really love this firm and I'd love you talk to you guys when you have a moment.' Interviewers remember people who do that.” For tips from hiring partner Mariah Brandt, read the Bonus Features in our web version of Pillsbury.
Pillsbury has been consistently praised for its gender diversity and it's been named in the Working Mother's 100 Best Companies list for ten consecutive years. The firm holds an attorneys of color diversity conference every three years which is “a two day set-up with various diverse speakers and panels for diverse associates and partners.” Attorneys “get together and brain storm ways we can improve diversity.” Fruits of these labors can be seen in the “recent implicit bias training” and a continued presence at diverse law fairs such as the LGBT Lavender Law Fair and National Black Law Student Association (NBLSA) career fairs. LA attorneys felt their office was the most diverse. One representative associate told us: "I do think the firm could improve, but again, I've not got much to compare it to, and from what I understand it's an area all firms can improve in." This associate was correct: it is.
Associates are given a pro bono target of 60 hours – recently raised from 25 – but are allowed to bill as many pro bono hours as they want. We heard about various pro bono organizations the firm has relationships with. In LA, associates work “with the center for gun violence,” which is “a nonprofit group that does a lot of research into fighting gun violence and gun law.” In San Francisco (home of sky high rents), associates “co-sign negotiations to do with leaseholds,” as “unfair evictions are a major problem in San Francisco. A lot of people are being unlawfully evicted.” In DC, some people work pro bono for the Bread for the City clinic, which assists low-income clients with legal issues.
Pro bono hours:
Training & Development
"Make sure you've got the fundamentals down."
First-years are trained via Pillsbury University (PU), a system made up of “video conferences” tailored for specific practice areas. "They're keen to make sure you've got the fundamentals down." Corporate juniors were taught “how to negotiate venture debt” while litigators are offered help in “discovery motions and legal writing. They offer a variety of training options,” a PU graduate told us. “I'd advise first-years to take it.” However, other sources claimed: “You could go through the entire year and ignore it,” though this “isn't the wisest decision you could make.” First-years are allowed to bill 150 hours of PU work, one of the scheme's more popular features.
Hours & Compensation
The 1,950 billing target can seem tough when “there is a mountain of work to be done,” but overall our sources were optimistic. “It's about riding the wave of work,” one corporate associate mused. “When you're busy, you bill the crap out of your hours. But work is deal driven so it really depends on what's on.” Most associates weren't worried because “if you're below your target they do make exceptions. I was at 95% of my hours last year and I still got a raise.” The firm offers a standard bonus and a second discretionary bonus “if you hit 110% of your hours.” This bonus is “not being transparent enough,” some felt, and others were unsure “whether I'm even going to get it.” Associates are eligible for bonuses if they hit 1,900 or 2,000 hours.
"Work is deal driven so it really depends on what's on.”
Billing 110% may seem daunting, but associates in busier seats such as corporate were accustomed to staying till the early hours: “There have been times when I've left at 3am and come back in at 6am to close the deal.” However, 3am finishes are rare and associates usually arrive at 9/9.30am and leave by 7.30pm.
Strategy & Future
Changes are afoot as decade-long chair Jim Rishwain prepares to hand over to chair-elect David Dekker on January 1, 2017, something that Pillsbury announced back in 2015. "I am working with Dave very closely," says Rishwain. "He is shadowing me both internally and externally with respect to all aspects of being the chair of the firm. I am absolutely committed to ensuring that we become a role model for firm leadership succession."
Expanding regions in the past year include Texas and the South: "We have not opened an office this year, but our Austin office has grown from four to 30 people since we opened in 2014, and we continue to grow our global operations center in Nashville. Overall, it has been a prosperous year for Pillsbury." On the topic of a possible future merger, Rishwain tells us: "Our strategy is not to merge just for the purpose of merging. Our strategy is to have the depth and breadth to best serve clients. We pursue that strategy through a variety of means, including internal talent development, lateral hiring, law school recruiting, and by being open minded to different groups. We would only merge with another firm from a position of strength and strategy."
Interview with hiring partner Mariah Brandt
Chambers Associate: How do you pre-screen those who have bid on your firm?
Mariah Brandt: It really depends on the school regarding whether we pre-screen. Some schools allow firms to do so, but generally, schools in the higher tiers won't allow us to do that. In those cases we look at grades but also keep in the mind the candidate as a whole.
CA: Which schools does the firm typically visit and does the number of people interviewed differ between each school?
MB: Usually we go to about 25 different schools, the majority of which are in the top 20. We also go to a handful of regional schools in areas where we have offices. To keep our recruiting as diverse as possible, we attend particular career fairs like the Lavender Law Fair for LGBT students and the Black Law Student Association (BLSA) law fair There a couple of specialty fairs we attend like the IP law fair at Loyola in Chicago.
CA: How many (or what percent) get called in for a second interview?
MB: It varies by office but roughly 30 to 40% of candidates get called back.
CA: What steps does the firm take to ensure its recruiting process is as diverse as possible?
MB: I mentioned that we go to diverse career fairs but of course there is a focus on diversity at regular schools. Obviously, we're looking for the best candidates overall. However, diversity is a core value of the firm and we are focused on diversity in our workplace, which makes us a better and stronger firm.
CA: Who conducts OCI and callback interviews? What kind of questions do you ask?
MB: Both partners and associates are involved in OCI. We use attorneys with a good understanding of the firm and the ability to connect well with students. We have recruiting committees in each office, and generally attorneys from those committees are the ones who go on campus to conduct interviews for the firm. We don't have a specific set of questions, however we encourage attorneys to ask competency-based behavioral questions during the interview process.
We use these questions to look at a candidate's past experience as an indicator of how they'll perform in the future, including certain situations they will be exposed to while working in a law firm. For example, we would to look at a candidate’s resume and ask questions about an activity or a job they listed to determine if the candidate has exhibited leadership skills, entrepreneurial spirit, and the ability to take initiative. If a candidate can demonstrate that they've done those things in the past, it is a good indicator as to whether they'll do them again in the future. We try to weave these types of questions into a conversational style, so that we are getting to know the candidate.
CA: What are you looking for in a candidate? How can students stand out during their interviews?
MB: We are looking for dynamic candidates; someone who is poised and confident, with rich life experiences whether it's in work, school or overcoming adversity. We want experiences that show a candidate has the skills to become an outstanding attorney. It's important to do your homework, to know about Pillsbury and to have an understanding of what Pillsbury does well. If there is a practice area you're interested in, it should align with one of Pillsbury's strengths. Prepare to discuss your past successes and experiences with us and be able to highlight how you've dealt with things in a positive way.
CA: Are there interview mistakes that you see as a 'red flag'?
MB: Not being prepared and not doing your research on our firm shows that you're not interested in Pillsbury. It’s understandable that candidates are nervous during an interview, but it's important to be yourself. Do not be overly serious just because you think that's how lawyers should be. Personality is a plus at Pillsbury. We’re looking for candidates who will be good attorneys and that we want to spend time with as colleagues. We want someone who will help perpetuate our firm culture.
CA: How important is past work experience to you when looking at applications?
MB: Past work experience is important but that doesn't mean you have to have worked a full time job. Someone could go straight through school and have amazing experience at a summer internship or a part time job during college. It's ideal if they have legal experience and an understanding of what it's like to work at a firm, but there isn't any one kind of job we look for. Whatever the job, a student should be able to explain why their experience there can help them succeed as an attorney at Pillsbury.
CA: How’s your summer program looking next year compared to previous years? How many offers do you make and what's the take-up rate?
MB: Our summer program is looking terrific. We have an exceptional incoming class and we were very excited to have them coming to Pillsbury. We have a slightly bigger class than last year, which was our intent. During the summer, we will do a lot of different activities – a mix of the old favorite events and new experiences. For example, last year the Los Angeles office did a trapeze class that was very well received. In the New York office they did Escape the Room which was a real ice breaker. Everyone there thought they'd do it easily but they all failed and had to really work as a team – it was a bonding experience. We also throw a lot of cocktail parties and mixers. Beyond giving summer associates a fun experience, it's really about helping them get to know the attorneys at the firm.
Last year we gave offers to almost everyone and had a 100% acceptance rate. Our summer program is consistently highly ranked. Last year The American Lawyer ranked our summer program 23rd in the country and ranked Pillsbury as the 16th best firm to work for. We’re very proud of these rankings and our program in general. Our success is owed in part due to making sure our summer associates get interesting substantive work without overworking them. But ultimately, Pillsbury has a great working culture and summer associates enjoy working here. That’s the real secret to our success.
CA: What does the firm offer that is unique?
MB: Pillsbury offers candidates stimulating high level work for an impressive roster of clients. We also offer the opportunity to work in a collegial environment that is unlike most big firms. One can get a sense of Pillsbury’s culture by watching Pillsbury’s The Interviewers video online. We care about our culture and making sure that we're a great firm to work for.
Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP
- Head Office: New York, NY
- Number of domestic offices: 13
- Number of international offices: 5
- Worldwide revenue: $557,000,000
- Partners (US): 344
- Associates (US): 199
- Summer Salary 2016
- 1Ls: $3,077/week
- 2Ls: $3,077/week
- Post 3Ls: $3,077/week
- 1Ls hired? No
- Split summers offered? Yes, but not preferred
- Can summers spend time in overseas office? Case by case
- Summers 2016: 44
- Offers/acceptances 2015: 34 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 2016 Best Lawyers/US News & World Report survey recognized our lawyers with 90 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.
• Number of 1st year associates: 26
• Number of 2nd year associates: 33
• Associate salaries: 1st year: $180,000
• 2nd year: $190,000
• Clerking policy: Yes
Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2016:
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; 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 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.