Reed Smith LLP - The Inside View

Now with nearly as many international as national offices, Reed Smith is one global Goliath that won't stop growing...

OPENING a new office in Frankfurt in 2015, vast Reed Smith has now cut the ribbon on seven new offices in as many years. The Pennsylvanian was founded in Pittsburgh in 1877, and today stretches across 27 offices, from London (the largest) to LA, and Athens to Abu Dhabi. The firm's founding partner, James H. Reed, thought big too when he assisted Andrew Carnegie in the establishment of US Steel – at one time the world's largest corporation – in 1901. To read more about Reed Smith and the Steel City's interconnected history, read our website Bonus Features. 

Looking back on 2015, global managing partner Sandy Thomas highlights a particularly good year for the firm's corporate & transactional advisory group (CTAG), as well as insurance recovery: "We're the largest firm with a policy-holder only practice, and that's a booming area for us." The Chambers USA rankings confirm this, with Reed Smith ranking well nationwide and number one in Pennsylvania for insurance. It also takes the top spot in the Keystone State for its banking & finance and bankruptcy/restructuring practices. In January 2016, the firm announced some layoffs which affected 45 attorneys, plus staff globally. Reed Smith said at the time this was due to market changes while pointing out that 2015 revenue was over $1 billion for the fourth consecutive year and it had hired 40 lateral partners during the year. As we went to press, it was reported that Reed Smith had entered merger talks with Pepper Hamilton, although these came to nothing.

The Work

Nearly a third of junior associates on our interview list were in complex litigation, while close to a quarter were in the corporate & securities group. The rest were spread across a wide range of departments, including global regulatory enforcement, insurance recovery, financial services litigation, life sciences & health, and energy & natural resources. Newbies are able to try work from any or all of the firm's practice areas over their summer, at the end of which they submit their top three groups. Preferences are taken into consideration (although not always satisfied), and “it's not until the month before you start that you find out which group you're in.”

Associates in corporate & securities described “a very busy year in M&A,” although “if you want more exposure in capital markets, private equity or securities you can reach out to the appropriate partners.” Day-to-day, “as a junior your primary responsibility is the due diligence process.” This involves “coordinating with different specialists and the client, and organizing the schedules.” Second-years spoke of meatier tasks: “Right now it's just me and a partner on a deal, and I've done all the drafting.” There's no assigning partner, so “if people aren't giving work to you, you can knock on doors – that reflects well on you.” Corporate juniors reported clients ranging from sports product companies and hospitals to the holding company of a fashion brand.

"If people aren't giving work to you, you can knock on doors – that reflects well on you."

Over in complex litigation, the work “completely varies. Sometimes I feel bogged down in doc review; other times I will draft a motion and someone will review it.” We heard about about one particularly busy case when the team “took about 60 depositions in five weeks. I was sent all over the country and I took or defended about ten depositions.” Juniors in this group reported trying work in other areas: “I also do life sciences, some entertainment and media, and some financial industry work. It's very common and encouraged to try different things.” Clients for litigators tend to involve “products you use every day: you see their adverts on the street and on TV.” As in the corporate group, “the onus is on the associate to reach out to people,” in order to get staffed on cases, and workflow is monitored by a complex litigation partner, or “traffic cop,” who has access to associates' weekly billed hours. Read more online about financial services litigation, global regulatory enforcement and the life sciences & health industry group.

Training & Development

Training is provided to associates via Reed Smith University, the firm's educational resource that is linked to CareeRS, the associate development initiative. Sessions come in the form of both online and live courses, which can be practice group-specific, or more generalized sessions and bootcamps on topics such as brief writing, trial skills, and external legal developments. The different courses are offered through a web portal: “Every week we get notifications about the programs available. You can attend any subject you like, even if it's not related to your area.” While most of our sources had regularly made use of these resources, others reported that “most of the training I get is directly from the folks I'm working with. It's easy to find people to bounce ideas off and ask questions.”

"You can attend any subject you like."

Most of our interviewees had an older associate mentor, and in addition "part of the CareeRS program is that everyone has a partner mentor who you talk to about your career goals.” After this, associates are “free to adapt to any other informal mentors.” While the majority found their associate mentor very useful –“I speak with her daily” – some felt that the partner mentor was less so: "He just seems so busy that I don't want to bother him!”


Reed Smith's base in Pittsburgh is home to nearly 300 attorneys, making it the largest in the USA. New York comes in second, with around 170 lawyers, while Philadelphia and Chicago each has around 150. The firm's other US offices, from largest to smallest, are in San Francisco, LA, Washington, DC, Houston, Princeton, Northern Virginia, Century City, Richmond, Silicon Valley and Wilmington.

"I think our office is the most incredible building in this town!”

“I think our office is the most incredible building in this town!” This excitable Pittsburgher added: “It's gorgeous and brand new. The first couple of floors of the building are a hotel, so essentially our firm lobby is a hotel lobby.” Associates have access to the hotel's spa and gym, as well as an in-house cafeteria or “lions' den” which is “really convenient in the winter.” Interviewees also spoke fondly of the hotel's dog who greets them as they enter the building. “She's so friendly and loves people – it's really welcoming!” Visit our Twitter page to see photos of gorgeous Edie the boxer/labrador cross. Philly associates equally loved their naturally-lit, brand new office building, complete with “fully ergonomic work spaces: all the offices have standing desks and chairs.”


Pittsburgh newbies described a supportive environment, in which people “look out for others – they want me to be promoted and do well.” Socializing outside of work isn't a priority, however, and “it's very much finish work and go home.” The sheer size of the firm means that juniors tend to be friendly within their group, but beyond this “people generally keep to themselves.” One associate joked, “I could wear the same outfit every day and nobody outside my group would notice!”

Over in Chicago, one associate rhapsodized: “You know how you hear of firms that are work hard, play hard? Well, we work hard, play nice! I work with the most brilliant people who are so down-to-earth. It's still a very professional atmosphere, but these are people that I would happily have a drink with after work.” Junior New Yorkers were less gushing about their colleagues: “It's not like we're all hugging all the time. You are encouraged to really take ownership of your time" so, understandably, "I work more with the people I like and less with those I don't.”

"We work hard, play nice!"

Associate-partner relationships vary. New Yorkers reported having “minimal interaction with partners, and when I do it's very professional and deferential.” One complex litigator noted being at “the beck and call” of certain partners: “In BigLaw you're going to get difficult partners who don’t necessarily keep the work/life balance of associates in mind.” Those in the corporate group meanwhile felt more encouraged to “reach out to partners if you have any kind of questions in terms of career development or goals.” One corporate newbie added that “partners are willing to take their time to work directly with you, to sit down and go over things.”

Hours & Compensation

As of September 2015, Reed Smith increased starting salaries, based on market adjustments, to $145,000 in Philadelphia, Wilmington and Princeton, and $140,000 in Pittsburgh. The billing target is 1,900 hours, although to be eligible for the profit-sharing bonus, associates need to bill 1,950. Corporate interviewees had no trouble meeting this number –“I reached it a while back,” one gladly reported, another cheerily noting “the work finds me!” Litigators, meanwhile, were less assured, as “it's really difficult to have a consistent flow of work. If you have two slow months in a row, there's no way to make up that 100-hour deficit.”

"They care more about the quality of the product rather than simply hitting your hours."

If you don't manage to hit your hours, however, you won't be penalized: “I think they care more about the quality of the product rather than simply hitting your hours. They look at the performance of the whole group, not just one person and why they had a bad week or month.” As far as vacation goes, the firm is “extremely accommodating – they will go out of their way to not interfere with your holiday.” Official vacation policy for juniors at Reed Smith is three weeks, although one source confided, “I ended up probably taking a lot more than I should! But you work hard here so you deserve a holiday.”

Pro Bono

“Pittsburgh is huge with respect to pro bono matters,” one associate enthused. Juniors there spoke of adoption cases, legal name changes for transgender individuals and helping “low income business owners to establish their business.” A generous 120 hours of pro bono count towards billables at Reed Smith, and a junior in Philadelphia remarked that “you get a different colored ribbon on your door depending on how many pro bono hours you've done, so there's definitely an incentive there.”

“You get a different colored ribbon on your door depending on how many pro bono hours you've done."

The firm's ongoing commitment to pro bono through long-term projects was also repeatedly highlighted. New Yorkers, for instance, described Reed Smith's legal clinic: “Once a month I go with a couple of other attorneys to senior centers to provide legal assistance and advice.” Over in Chicago, meanwhile, one junior had been working on a matter with the National Immigrant Justice Center: "It's a case that our firm has been working on for the last 11 years or so.”

Pro bono hours 

  • For all attorneys across all US offices: 55,516 
  • Average per US attorney: 55


"Cocktails with certain clients' women's initiatives."

The general feeling was that “there's a great ratio of women to men,” among the firm's associates, although “you can see the drop-off when it comes to female partners.” The Women's Initiative Network of Reed Smith (WINRS) is very active, and every office has a liaison and a committee chair. “Typically there are a couple of in-house networking events that we host, where we'll get together for cocktails with certain clients' women's initiatives. Sometimes we'll have a speaker come and discuss career strategy.”

As far as ethnic minorities and LGBT diversity goes, associates agreed that improvements could be made, although "diversity has always been a key element for Reed Smith." There is a diversity committee, “an Asian affinity group, a black affinity group, and a couple of others,” including LGBT and disability groups.

Get Hired

"The more you're able to talk to people, the better you can direct yourself.”

Generally, “the more outgoing you are, and the more you're able to talk to people, the better you can direct yourself.” One source reiterated this point: “People that do well here are self-starters. You need to be an entrepreneur in order to build your business both internally – in terms of your reputation and skill level within the firm – and externally, when you're a partner building your own book of clients.” More tangibly, “when they recruit they look for strong writers, people who are on a law review and did well in legal writing class.” 

Strategy & Future

“Reed Smith's strategy is to be the leading firm in five global industries: life sciences and health, energy and natural resources, financial services, shipping, and media and entertainment,” global managing partner Sandy Thomas informs us. “Our growth, be that adding lawyer talent or new geographies, is oriented around that strategy.”

Any specific locations that the firm is hoping to expand to? “We have a number of regions where we are either not physically present, or we are, but are looking to expand. In Asia in particular, we have a very solid business that we think we can grow. We are also looking at central and Latin America.”

Reed Smith and Pittsburgh's productive partnership

When Andrew Carnegie and Reed Smith's founding partner James H. Reed put their moustachioed heads together to found US Steel in 1901, they not only helped to create what was (at one time) the world's largest steel producer and biggest corporation, but also laid the foundations for a link between Pittsburgh and Reed Smith that would last for decades to come. Still one of the firm's clients, US Steel was a certainly a good omen for the future; Reed Smith today serves 57 of the world's 100 largest companies.

Unfortunately, Steel City's namesake industry quite literally began to run out of steam in the 1970s, due to depletion in local coke and iron ore deposits, and competition from new, more profitable rivals. Pittsburgh didn't find itself in the pits, however – far from it. Home to a number of other prominent institutions, including The Pittsburgh Trust Company (now Pittsburgh National Corporation), Western Pennsylvania Hospital (now Allegheny Health Network), and the Mellon Institute of Industrial Research (now Carnegie Mellon University), the city's diverse industries were well poised for an economic renaissance.

All three of the institutions mentioned above have some connection to Reed Smith, either as clients, or indirectly as part of mergers that it has assisted. The firm was in fact integral to founding Carnegie Mellon University: in 1913, it assisted Andrew Carnegie and Richard Mellon in creating the Mellon Institute of Industrial Research, which in 1967 would merge with Carnegie Institute of Technology (also founded with Reed’s assistance) to form the university.

A combination of outstanding medical establishments and research institutes has meant that Pittsburgh has seen many a medical breakthrough, including the creation of the polio vaccine in 1955, and the first heart, liver, and kidney transplant in 1989. And it doesn't end with medical technology: the Pittsburgh Experiment Station was established in 1910 to train coal miners and conduct research into coal mine safety. Fast forward 100 years – and a series of mergers – and you have the nationwide National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL), which conducts research into the clean production and use of domestic energy resources.

In a city of such innovation, Reed Smith has clearly been spoiled for choice. So it will come as no shock that the firm's Pittsburgh base today serves a wide range of sectors, from education and healthcare to the energy industry (the city's vast natural gas resources are re-founding Pittsburgh as a center for energy in the US). Steel City has since also been chosen by many other of the biggest names in law – including K&L Gates and Jones Day – as a location to set up shop.

More on Reed Smith's practice areas

In the financial services litigation group, the large majority of the clients are, unsurprisingly, financial institutions: “Right now, 80% of my work is for large financial institutions — mostly banks — so our clients are usually in-house lawyers for those banks. The other 20% of my job is a lot of start-ups that are getting into the financial services industry, and we're pitching our expertise to them, sometimes to business people, or to the in-house lawyers in these smaller companies.” Another associate told us that “100% of my clients are banks. I'm working on several class actions and high-number plaintiff lawsuits that have alleged fraud, or breach of fiduciary duty claims in the context of a bank. I'd say about a third of my practice is Ponzi scheme litigation; we're always defending the bank.”

As far as responsibility goes, in this group, one junior remarked that “I was surprised by how much trust they gave me early on. In my first year I was writing first drafts for motions for summary judgment, and within six months of starting I was doing the briefing on big cases. Now I'm a third-year, I manage more cases, and I talk with the client regularly.” Another third-year told us: “This year I was able to take nine depositions, which as a junior associate is really thrilling. I've also started to manage staff attorneys; I'm very happy with the level of responsibility. I don't feel overwhelmed but I don't feel like I'm doing 'busy work'.”

Over in global regulatory enforcement, associates work with global clients who are investing in various locations and have to deal with regulatory enforcement proceedings in foreign countries. The associates we spoke to were working with clients investing in the US: “We work with their legal department as a separate entity, but also with the line of business. If you're an entity you've often got the folks on the ground doing the work, and they have their own local compliance department, so I'll work directly with the client's central legal team.” What does this mean on the day-to-day? “I deal with regulators, I've conducted interviews and submitted regulatory responses. It's a good amount of work and responsibility. Part of working with a partner means I've got someone to run things by; I'm not doing this on my own, but I'm trusted to do the first draft.”

The work for those in life sciences and health mainly revolves around defending pharmaceutical corporations and medical device manufacturers, which means “we work pretty large complex litigation and mediation. There aren't actually class actions in the medical field, because the idea is that each individual plaintiff is his own entity, because his/her circumstances are different from another plaintiff even if they're using the same device.” The team works on a lot of multi-district litigation, which is when multiple cases are grouped into one court: “Generally we work on a fairly large, sometimes national scale.”

So how does this translate into actual work? As a first-year, “there's definitely a lot of drafting answers,” but as you move up the ranks, the work becomes more substantive: “I'm drafting new motions, and getting very involved in the discovery,” one third-year told us. When prepping for trial, third-years “do all the factual investigating; sleuthing the doctor, getting information about the plaintiff. From there we move into discovery matters and motion practice, and soon we'll start doing depositions with experts to start building the case up.”

Interview with Casey Ryan, global head of legal personnel

Chambers Associate: How do you pre-screen those who have bid on Reed Smith?

Casey Ryan: Grades are obviously important; we don't have GPA cut-offs but we do have guidelines, so we focus on a certain level of achievement. But we look beyond grades for writing samples, too, because so much of what lawyers do involves the written word. We always look for law review work, and any awards they've achieved for their writing, speaking, or service are very attractive.

Leadership is also very important; what I find really impressive is something that indicates the candidate has drive and an ability to lead. I will sometimes look and see if there is previous work experience – it doesn't have to be full-time, but sometimes you can tell by the jobs that candidates have held how interested they are in the legal profession, or whether they have some other business acumen that will be helpful to them or our clients.

CA: What makes a candidate stand out at interview?

CR: To me, the best way is demonstrating sincerity, and showing an interest in the firm and the practice of law; too often interviewees make the mistake of under-preparing. There are two ways that candidates can impress me. Firstly, you can tell the difference between a canned response and a sincere one. Students ought to be sincere and thoughtful about the answers they give, as opposed to offering responses that sound rehearsed.

Equally important is knowing the firm; sometimes candidates come in and they know nothing more about Reed Smith than what can be read on our homepage. If you're really interested in us, you should get to know the firm's practice areas and strategy. We want to make sure you're a good fit and that Reed Smith does what you want to do.

CA: Once a candidate is onto the summer program then, how can they impress you?

CR: I think engagement is key – the summer shouldn't just get an assignment and go back to the office with it. This links to the competitive nature of the market right now; the number of jobs is decreasing so the level of competition is going up. There are a lot of smart, talented people competing for these jobs, so you need a high level of enthusiasm, and the work needs to be rock solid.

Engagement means going out and meeting people – if you want to be a litigator, for instance, go out and talk to the litigators here and ask if you can get involved by going to court with them or sitting in on a meeting. People who relay that interest stand head and shoulders above those who just come in and punch the time clock. The best lawyers are the ones who want to be lawyers, who really care about their clients. The opposite end of that is those who are just interested in the paycheck, and that's a miserable idea to me. Being on the level of the spectrum where you're excited about the work and the clients – if you can convey that – I think is spectacular.

CA: What can law students be doing now to give them a greater chance of impressing you in their application?

CR: The focus – for better or worse – starts with the grades, but if students are able to take on more, then they ought to challenge themselves. This can be both internally and externally of school. Internally, they should strive to work on a law review, look for student associations with the bar, a moot court, client development programs, that sort of thing. Students should do whatever they can to make themselves more rounded. Also, if they are able (and it doesn't impact their grades), they should look outside for community service work or legal aid activities during the summer or the school term. We're looking for anything that is challenging; of course, you don't want to push beyond your limits, but students should gather as many experiences as possible as they all make a candidate stand out.

CA: Are there any less tangible qualities that you look for in a candidate?

CR: Yes. We want people who are independent, who work well on their own, who are positive and driven, hardworking, and have a strong work ethic. There are lots of things that demonstrate a strong work ethic; perhaps they worked during school, or have been involved in community or civic organizations. Anything that shows you can multitask and still achieve highly.

I also think resilience is necessary because these are hard jobs, particularly when you're learning how to do them. We have lots of conversations as to whether law school prepares associates for work. It trains the mind, but it doesn't train you for the business element, and that requires thinking on your feet. The demands are high, so you need to be a driven individual.

CA: What is the firm doing to encourage diversity in recruiting?

CR: We've been doing a lot on that front, so there are a few different things I can mention. Firstly, there is the Reed Smith Diverse Scholars Program: each year we give $20,000 to two law students who have shown both academic excellence and commitment to diversity inclusion. They also get a paid position as a summer associate between their second and third year. In fact, we've had such a great response to the program that we recently increased the reward from $15,000 to $20,000.

We also have some other city-based initiatives. In Chicago and Pittsburgh, we participate in the 1L LCLD [Leadership Council on Legal Diversity] program, and the two students on that work half the summer with us and half with a membership organization; in Pittsburgh they spend half the summer with the financial institution PNC. Another program we've introduced recently is the Reed Smith/Kaiser Permanente 1L Diversity Fellowship Program for a diverse first-year who receives a $5,000 stipend and a summer with us in the San Francisco office. They spend half the summer with us and half in Kaiser’s Oakland office. We have had some great lawyers coming out of these pipeline programs, and we intend to keep adding to what we have.

CA: What does Reed Smith offer that is unique?

CR: Firstly, we are not a Swiss verein. We are a global partnership, and that makes the experience unique for our associates. We have 26 offices around the world, offering tremendous opportunities to those coming from law school. If you're coming into a law firm, having that network from day one provides incredible opportunities.

Another thing is that the firm really makes an investment in you; it's a place where we are really committed to training, and RSU [Reed Smith University] focuses on every stage in your career. From the minute you walk in, you are receiving dedicated attention, with a partner and associate mentor who are constantly keeping in touch with you. Having come through it myself, I can say you don't feel like you're just a cog in the wheel; you really feel like if you work hard, you will progress, so it doesn't seem that making partner is unachievable. You have to work for it and put in the hours and be really good at what you do, but from an associate perspective, the best part is that we're going to make an investment in you. The reason I've been here for over 20 years is because it's a great place – there's no other firm I would rather be at!

Reed Smith LLP

Reed Smith Centre,
225 Fifth Avenue ,
PA 115222

  • Head Office: N/A
  • Number of domestic offices: 14
  • Number of international offices: 12
  • Worldwide revenue: $1.123 billion
  • Partners (US): 514
  • Associates (US): 449
  • Summer Salary 2016  
  • 1Ls: $5,417 - $7,500 semi-monthly
  • 2Ls: $5,417 - $7,500 semi-monthly
  • 1Ls hired? Case by case
  • Split summers offered? Case by case
  • Can summers spend time in overseas office? No
  • Summers 2016: 47 (43 2Ls, 4 1Ls)
  • Offers/acceptances 2015: 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: 45
• First-year salary: $145,000 - $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.