Reed Smith LLP - The Inside View

Steel yourself for tons of opportunities at this huge firm, which even has its own university...

HEINZ tomato ketchup, the Big Mac, the Jeep, Reed Smith... The connection? All Pittsburgh-born, in 1877 in the law firm's case. Fast-forward 140 years: Reed Smith has a big presence across not only the US but the globe – 28 offices, including New York, DC, Chicago, San Fran, LA, and, as of April 2017, Miami. Associates liked the work opportunities size provides: “It gives you the resources to do the work you want to do.” They also sang the praises of Reed Smith University, an ongoing formal training program: “The firm really invests in you from day one.” See the Training section below for details.

Numerous ranked practice areas in Chambers USA include banking & finance, bankruptcy/restructuring, corporate/M&A, private equity, insurance, labor & employment, IP, and litigation. Founding partner James H. Reed was lawyer to one of the titans of 19th Century industrialism, Andrew Carnegie, whose steel company – US Steel – remains a Reed Smith client to this day.

The Work

Juniors are in either litigation or business & finance. Within each are subgroups: “The fact they have a lot of practice groups was very attractive,” sources noted. “Initially it's hard to know what you want to do!” Complex litigation is the biggest litigation subgroup, while others include IP, life sciences, labor & employment, and data security & privacy. Transactional associates split into corporate & transactional advisory, real estate, energy & natural resources, and financial services, among others.

“If you can show you're capable then people will let you take on things."

In complex litigation, “the practice is so broad there are lots of opportunities for doing different things.” There is undeniably “a lot of research and writing,” but going to trial has seen juniors “preparing witnesses for cross-examination, which involved setting up mock crosses and going over their responses.” A Pittsburgh associate highlighted they were “lead drafter on a motion to dismiss. You can get hands-on experience in small matters, and on larger cases you get to observe a lot and see how senior attorneys deal with things.” Clients are often Fortune500 corporations, and juniors see things like product liability cases, contractual cases, class action cases, and shareholder disputes. A Chicago junior explained: “If you can show you're capable then people will let you take on things. It's a lot of work – but the more you can do to take the pressure off the partners, the better.”

The global corporate group deals with matters including M&A, capital markets, and corporate governance work. “It's not uncommon to work with clients in China, Europe, or elsewhere in Asia.” Tasks include due diligence, drafting ancillary and transaction documents, as well as “going on data sites and reviewing contract leases.” Juniors staffed on a deal “do whatever is required.” Fluctuating workloads mean “you can't see what's coming, which can then be hard to plan for.” A New Yorker found “folks here trust you to do more than normal – it can be daunting at times, but overall I think it's a good thing.”

"You know you're being allowed to exercise your judgment in decision-making.”

IP folks deal with either privacy and data security or patent matters. Work on the former may involve “drafting privacy policies for websites and apps,” and on the trial side “research, or preliminary drafts of motions to dismiss.” Juniors experienced “independence but with supervision. You still have support, but you know you're being allowed to exercise your judgment in decision-making.” Clients on the privacy side include automotive companies and advertising companies, while the patent side sees more pharmaceutical companies. Patent juniors can be found “reviewing office actions and prior art cited, coming up with strategies and drafting responses.” If a trial is involved, associates might get stuck into “case review to see how certain judges behave.”

Energy & natural resources work varies by office. In Pittsburgh, for example, the main focus is construction litigation, with some environmental regulatory work thrown in too. Clients include pipeline companies and power generation plants. “Research and drafting are a huge component of my day.” Other common tasks include discovery work, answering complaints, and doc review. “To be honest, I expected less responsibility because whenever you hear about big firms there is this stereotype that you'll be doing grunt work and putting together binders. In a lot of cases here, the junior is responsible for managing the case, managing deadlines, and figuring out the response.”


"Everyone is getting used to the new-paint smell!”

Most juniors were in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and New York. A strong force occupied offices across California, Chicago, and DC, with a smaller number across the firm's Virginia, Delaware, and New Jersey offices. Most do a little bit of everything, but the Pittsburgh office has a bigger focus on energy, insurance and corporate, while Chicago  is best known for its insurance recovery group, and DC its life science group. Juniors have their own offices except in New York, where space is significantly more expensive. New Yorkers enjoyed the new cafeteria in their building, and the post-refurb open glass offices. “I think everyone is getting used to the new-paint smell!” one laughed.

Training & Development

Reed Smith University is the firm's training resource and is linked to CareeRS, its firmwide career development program. There are a certain number of mandatory training sessions, then a calendar of sessions that you can choose to attend or not. “There's a guiding system to help you look at what you're supposed to be dealing with, but I do think you have to really make what you want of it, and seek out what you really want,” a New Yorker explained. Another enthused: “I've liked the training because I've been able to learn from experiences of attorneys here and abroad.” Others mentioned practical “on the ground training.”

The review process starts with a self-evaluation in which juniors list partners they've done work for, who in turn review them. The practice group leader then goes over both evaluations in person with associates, and these are used to determine compensation and bonuses. “The system is fine, it's just onerous when you have to write a ton in two weeks on top of the other work you have,” one noted.


“The best way to describe the culture? People I work with are people I also hang out with on weekends,” a Pittsburgher found. The friendly environment came as a surprise to some who “didn't know what to expect coming into a large firm.” Many described the culture as entrepreneurial in the sense that “you're encouraged to make your own career, even at junior level. The firm encourages you to do whatever you need to do to be successful.” Having said that, juniors were keen to clarify “it's not overly competitive, but people work really hard.”

“You don't have to worry about letting your guard down."

“You don't have to worry about letting your guard down at inter-office events.” The social scene ranges from “charitable events that turn into social events” to cooking competitions to an “Oktoberfest-y event,” plus occasional happy hours, “a nice social gathering to let loose and talk about what's going on.”

At the beginning of 2016, the firm announced some layoffs that affected a handful of attorneys globally. One source said “the leadership was upfront about it when it happened, and I didn't get a sense of panic,” while a DC-er admitted “when people have slow months they get really scared. The layoffs came with no notice.” But overall, many agreed “it hasn't had a long-term impact on the atmosphere” and the firm has “come out stronger.” Some thought “partners in a different generation maybe value different things. It seems they don't really value work/life balance.” But others pointed out that “it's not uncommon to find senior attorneys at the local bar, hanging out and getting a beer.”

Hours & Compensation

“When everyone went to the New York scale [$180,000 for first-years], Reed Smith took about a week to chime in and follow suit.” That said, salary still varies regionally, starting at $130,000 in Richmond. The billing goal is 1,900 hours, although to be eligible for a profit-sharing bonus, associates need to bill 1,950. Those in litigation and transactional groups had no trouble hitting the target, but some explained that “it's not really achievable if you're in a specialized group. And it's harder to meet target when a lot of work is given to overseas.” Others elaborated: “When you first start, it's hard to get workflow – you're still getting your legs and building a reputation. But from then on it's easier.”

Being in the office 9am to 7pm is fairly standard, with home work too. “They expect you work when you need to, but also they're not oblivious to the fact that people want a work/life balance.” For most, this was achievable, but corporate associates noted that “the unpredictable factor does affect it.” Some have to “build a private life around work. It all depends where you are and what deal you're on.”

Pro Bono

“You're often the lead attorney."

Reed Smith encourages juniors to do pro bono, not least because “you're often the lead attorney so it's good practice handling a matter on your own,” a New Yorker explained. Associates can count 120 hours of pro bono work as billable, for individual cases or as part of the firm's formal program. Cases range from asylum, immigration, and domestic abuse to corporate governance matters and non-profit mergers. Several juniors mentioned their involvement in the Name Change Project – helping transgender people to change their names.

Pro bono hours

  • For all US attorneys: 54,384
  • Average per US attorney: 56


The legal industry has plenty of work to do on the diversity front, but Reed Smith associates reckoned “we're the cream of the crop in making sure women make partner.” The WINRS [Women's Initiative Network of Reed Smith] program focuses on developing women attorneys to their full potential and encouraging their advancement in the industry. “For women, there's a bunch of seminars," a female junior noted, but they could have a wider impact: "I feel like men need to get those trainings!” That said, there is a firmwide implicit bias seminar. The firm also recently started an initiative for attorneys with disabilities. “Reed Smith continues to support diversity efforts. There's a budget there if you have a diversity idea.”

Strategy & Future

Associates agreed that the firm “offers a pathway to partnership that is much clearer than other firms” and that they “put in extra effort to cultivate relationships with you.” Managing partner Sandy Thomas emphasizes the effort the firm put into “the investment we're making in people and capabilities.” His general strategy is “to be the leading global firm in five global industries” – energy & natural resources, financial services, life sciences & health, entertainment & media, and shipping. To achieve this, “we've added capabilities in each one of those and seen some really great recognitions in the market as a consequence.” Besides practice areas, Reed Smith is also focusing on its “robust diversity and inclusion program” which Thomas highlights “has earned us the nickname 'Rainbow Smith'.”


Get Hired

“The questions we ask are designed to suss out what their interest is in being a practicing lawyer,” global head of legal personnel Casey Ryan tells us. “We find some who are passionate about the practice of law, and a genuine interest in client service. Then there are those that are less so.” When it comes to really impressing at interview, “we need people who are committed and dedicated. If they don't have those qualities, it's an unfairness to the client.” Another thing that might tip the scales in your favor is asking thoughtful questions: “People come in with canned questions – what's a typical day like? What's the summer program like? It's not a bad thing, but there's the opportunity to make a neutral question very spectacular.”

“Another factor is where they're based regionally, and if they're going to stick around in that region” a junior added. Another advised “don't be afraid to be yourself. The interview is much more of a conversation, so let your personality shine through. You should also be figuring out if the firm is right for you, not just whether you're right for them.”

Interview with managing partner Sandy Thomas

What highlights from the past year would you want to flag up to student readers interested in your firm?

Our strategy at Reed Smith is to be the leading global firm in five global industries and invest in practices that best support clients in those industries. We've made important investments in energy and natural resources, financial services, life sciences and health, entertainment and media, and shipping. We've added capabilities in each one of those and seen some really great recognitions in the market as a consequence. For example, in shipping we've added a wonderful team in Singapore, headed by Richard Lovell, who's a fantastic name in the market. We are one of the top shipping firms in the world, and have seen a lot of growth in that business, be it wet or dry shipping in Asia. In the financial industry, we've added capabilities in London and regulatory capabilities in the US, namely CSPP expert Maria Burley who came to us from Sidley. We also hired an M&A lawyer in New York – Jennifer Chang – where the practice is largely oriented around M&A in the life science business. We're trying to grow with capabilities that are consistent with our sector strengths. Geographically, one highlight has been investing time into making our Frankfurt office (open last year) a success, which has exceeded expectations. We've been able to work existing client relationships into this new market at a rate we did not foresee.

What effect do you think the coming Trump presidency will have on the legal market?

It's a little too early to say with a whole lot of precision. I think there are a couple of practical things we will see in the US as a consequence of the election. One will be the high number of judicial vacancies which we can expect to see filled quickly, which will have a big effect on businesses and law firms, especially with their litigation practices. Enforcement and environment are big questions for a firm like ours in terms of what enforcement posture we can expect a Trump administration to enforce.

Where will the firm be investing? Any plans to open new offices?

We're always studying new geographies, and are definitely doing so right now, but there's nothing new in terms of the immediate future. For me, I think about the investment we're making in people and capabilities. One of the areas we're investing in, with and for our clients, is our robust diversity inclusion program – we're investing in that alongside our clients, for whom the diversity and inclusiveness of law firms matters a lot. Secondly, our Client Value Team, which is a team of 15+ people, some of whom are lawyers, some of whom are not. They help us with relationship and project management, and most often work directly with clients to deliver the value that clients are looking for. Also, our knowledge management team, which has a strong technology component. Some things are susceptible to repetition through technology. It's changing a lot of client relationships on the back of technology solutions. We recently won a big award on that in London, having developed our Deal Performance Platform – an automated real estate transaction program to more efficiently answer clients' questions.

What are the hot practice areas right now? Which are growing?

Our regulatory and investigations practice is doing very well right now, as is our corporate practice in the US, including M&A. We have a successful commodities practice, and finally, we have a large insurance recovery practice, which is a global practice that is having an outstanding year.

Can you tell us a bit more about your new diversity initiatives?

Within our diversity and inclusion program – which has earned us the nickname Rainbow Smith – we have a variety of affinity groups, and one of those if our disability affinity group. We've tried to be really intentional about recruiting and hiring disabled lawyers, and have had success with that. It's been a little surprising, especially the degree to which clients are trying to achieve the same thing. It's just starting out, but clients are interested to see where it's going.

What is the relationship like between your office and the other offices? Where does it seem the decisions are made?

We don't really have a headquarters – we started in Pittsburgh 140 years ago so it is certainly the cultural home of the firm. But I move around the firm a lot – to DC, northern Virginia etc. Our senior management team – the lawyers on the team are perfectly even from a gender perspective – are spread all over the place, from London to Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. It's a diverse group geographically which I think helps bind the firm together.

Any advice or words of wisdom for our student readers as they try to enter the legal profession?

Only that we at Reed Smith feel lucky because we get to work with our minds, and from our perspective, what makes the firm great is collaboration. That's what serves clients best, and students ought to be eager to be part of an environment like that.

Interview with chief knowledge officer, Lucy Dillon

What is the main purpose of the firm's Knowledge Management team?

Our aim is threefold. Our first aim is to help lawyers deliver a better product, part of which is about making sure we capture the best of our knowledge and using that to make sure the client gets the best benefits of the business. It's about the quality of the end product. This then links to our second aim – efficiency. If we're collecting the best knowledge, we're not reinventing the wheel every time. It enables people to do things faster. In this environment, where the client is focusing very much on price, doing things quickly and well is a good thing. The last aim is sharing what we know with our clients, beyond delivering legal advice. If we deliver training internally, our clients need the same training, so why not invite them in? We should also be helping clients to be more efficient and deliver to their clients. Sharing expertise and knowledge with clients becomes part of the service. So there's three prongs of our strategy: quality, efficiency, and sharing knowledge with clients.

What is the role of technology in this, and in the firm's strategy going forward? How important is it?

Knowledge Management and technology have worked side by side for a long time now. There are two elements where technology plays a key role. One is efficiency: there's certainly a tech-drive to efficiency, especially with how you deliver your service to clients. There are various technologies that enable us to do that more quickly. How we communicate and collaborate with clients is also driven by technology. Traditionally, the American KM model was very technology focused – it was all about how technology can make you more efficient. In the UK, the approach has involved more human intervention: technology isn't going to tell you what the best example of a particular document is – you need a human to say “this is the best option.” KM has been more people-focused in the UK, whereas in the US it has been more tech-centric. Now the distinction is blurring – many ex-lawyers are working in KM in the States now, and the UK is further embracing technology. Technology is completely essential as all products will have an IT element. It's key, and will become more key.

What are the current uses of technology at the firm, and what do you think the future uses will be?

Particularly in global firms, technology is the glue that binds it all together. We can't communicate without it. If the systems go down, you struggle to work. In terms of quality, how does technology ensure the quality is the best it can be? For that we have many online resources and online research services which enable us to make sure the advice we give is correct and up to date. We have systems which enable us to extract the best versions of what we have and make sure it is available to be reused. We then put it on the intranet so people can find it. There's also technology that helps with proof reading, creating quality pieces that look great.  For efficiency, search is the holy grail so we're always refining it and making it better. We make sure the search is the best it can be. We can now automate document production – for repeat documents, we automate them by answering a series of questions, which then creates a document in the background, producing the first draft. It also helps with client collaboration, which brings us onto the DPP.

Can you tell us more about the firm's Deal Performance Platform [DPP]?

The DPP is our client collaboration tool, and we recently won an award for it [Best Use of Technology at the Legal Week British Legal Awards 2016]. It's a client transaction extranet. During the course of a transaction, we put all the documents on the site for the client to review and comment on. It's very much a collaboration, and takes out all unnecessary emails and phone calls. If they want the latest version of the document to review, they can go on the extranet and find it. The drafting of the document is therefore done in that collaborative way. Then when we're ready to complete the deal, there are huge numbers of documents that need to be signed. We have a closing check list of all the documents required to close a deal, and we will automatically update it as the documents as signed. There's are usually a lot of to-and-fro at the end of a deal, but with the DPP there's none of the chasing that usually goes with a closing. The client just goes on the extranet to see where any hold-ups are. They can check what needs to be done on their phone on the way to work. It's very seamless, and clients love it because it's real-time communication. They only call now when there is something important to discuss. The DPP helps to streamline transactions, and because we built it with the clients, we are adapting it all the time in response to client feedback. Technology is a real enabler, but the power of the tool is around delivering what clients want. They don't necessarily want the latest tech, they just want something that works.

How do you think artificial intelligence fits into the future of the legal industry?

It's going to be a game-changer. I think that in three years time, it will be mainstream and we will all be using it. There's a lot of hype around AI at the moment, and the reality is that in other industries it's much further advanced than it is in law. People are looking at say the medical profession and saying if it can do that there, it can do that in law. But actually, I think the usages are going to be very different. I don't think we're going to be replaced by robots, but tasks that are currently being done will be done differently – using technology. We're using AI now for document review. When I was a lawyer and we had to do doc review, we'd be put into a room full of boxes of documents, read every document, then write a report. It was a finite number of documents though – there were no computers, everything was in hard copy. It was reasonable to expect people to do that document review, but the reality now is that that's impossible because of the sheer number of documents we can store. The whole scale of what's expected makes it impossible, so you need technology to help manage that. AI is extraordinary technology to help streamline that exercise. It can read documents, understand what the document is, and say here are ten thousand documents – of ten thousand, 3500 are leases, and 5000 are customer contracts. The technology is becoming more and more sophisticated. It can look into those 3500 leases and say here are rent review clauses and extract them. However, it can't read the 3500 and say which are the best examples, and which are the worst – human insight is still required. The law is so nuanced that it's too difficult for a computer. In time it'll be able to do it, but not yet. Now, what would have taken days and days of junior attorneys' time trawling through documents has gone away. It makes jobs much more interesting too – who wants to sit in a dusty room reading files? Now legal work is much more interesting as computers can do the donkey work, and the lawyers are able to do more analysis. That's why it's a game-changer: it's going to change some of the work we do, and cut out a lot. That time is then filled with more useful tasks, which will be more valuable to the client. There's a lot of movement in enhancing research using AI, and people have been hearing about what technology has achieved in other industries – the opportunities are endless, but there's a lot of work to get law to that stage. Having said that, in a way we have a reputation of being a bit traditional and old-fashioned, but some of the technology we're using now is really cutting edge. We have the opportunity for that reputation to be changed.

Our guides are written for law students – do you think this shift will have an impact on future junior lawyers?

This kind of technology has a real world impact. The lawyer of tomorrow will be much more tech-savvy and will better understand how this technology works and how it can add value. I would like to see some of our lawyers of tomorrow coming into law to almost be legal technologists, or maybe people who come into law firms to work out how we can use tech to change the way legal advice is given and create new ways of doing things. We are moving away from the traditional view of the lawyer – juniors will come in and shake things up, and show new and more exciting ways to deliver legal advice.

“Law is a human business. It's about solving people-problems. The answers aren't straightforward, there's always an element of interpretation.”


Reed Smith LLP

Reed Smith Centre,
225 Fifth Avenue ,
PA 115222

  • Head Office: N/A
  • Number of domestic offices: 15
  • Number of international offices: 12
  • Worldwide revenue: $1.123 billion
  • Partners (US): 514
  • Associates (US): 449
  • Summer Salary 2017  
  • 1Ls: $5,208-$6,667 semi-monthly
  • 2Ls: $5,208-$6,667 semi-monthly
  • 1Ls hired? Case by case
  • Split summers offered? Case by case
  • Can summers spend time in overseas office? No
  • Summers 2017: 57 (52 2Ls, 5 1Ls)
  • Offers/acceptances 2016: 51 offers, 49 acceptances

Main areas of work
Reed Smith is a global relationship law firm with more than 1,800 lawyers in 26 offices throughout the United States, Europe, Asia and the Middle East. Its lawyers provide litigation and other dispute-resolution services in multi-jurisdictional and other highstakes matters; deliver regulatory counsel; and execute the full range of strategic domestic and cross-border transactions. Reed Smith is a preeminent advisor to industries including financial services, life sciences, healthcare, advertising, technology and media, shipping, energy and natural resources, real estate, manufacturing and education.

Firm profile
Reed Smith has been ranked consistently among the top law firms for client service and has been identified as one of the few large firms with a strategic focus on client satisfaction. Reed Smith has grown in large part because of its commitment to delivering high-quality service and developing long-term client relationships. Reed Smith is united by a culture that is defined by core values of quality, integrity, teamwork and respect, performance and innovation and improvement. These are further demonstrated through a firmwide commitment to diversity, pro bono and community support activity and the professional development of the firm’s lawyers.

Recruitment details
• Number of 1st year associates: 42
• First-year salary: $30,000 - $180,000
• Clerking policy: Yes

Summer details
Summer associate profile:
Reed Smith is looking for summer associates who have a combination of top academics, practical experience and superior analytical and writing skills. The firm values people who are mature and engaging and who demonstrate leadership capabilities and community involvement.

Summer program components:
Reed Smith offers law students first-rate work in a challenging and busy atmosphere where their contributions count from day one. Summer associates will become immersed in law firm life by completing assignments relating to actual client situations. Each assignment presents a fresh opportunity for summer associates to hone their research, writing, judgment, communication and analytical skills.
CareeRS is Reed Smith’s competency-based career development program with a focus on role-specific professional training and development, including mentoring, and more developmentally oriented assessments tailored to the needs of associates. The firm offers its summer associates numerous chances to participate in both formal and informal training programs, such as: managing partner’s forum, mediation and mergers and acquisitions clinics, law firm economics, cross-cultural training and legal writing. Summer associates also have numerous opportunities to participate in pro bono and community service projects and become acquainted with our Women’s Initiative Network and Diversity and Inclusion Committees. Please visit for more information about each of these initiatives.