Sedgwick's prowess as a trial and litigation firm has been firmly bolstered since it opened its golden gate to a range of other practices...
FOUNDED in 1933, Sedgwick has grown considerably from its humble two-attorney beginnings in San Francisco. Nowadays laying claim to 14 offices across the USA and a further two abroad in London and Bermuda (an affiliated office), the firm most recently opened an office in Kansas City in 2014 to house its staff. And with growth has come variety: although it began life as a litigation firm, Sedgwick has since diversified to include areas such as business law, IP and real estate. In particular, this San Franciscan has an impressive insurance practice, ranking highly in Chambers USA within California for this area. It also ranks highly statewide for its construction work.
That said, Sedgwick's practice of origin still seemed to be the main draw for the associates we spoke to: “I was very interested in litigation coming out of law school, and Sedgwick is one of the premier trial firms in San Francisco.” And the work itself wasn't the only pull, as another explained: “It sounds like such a cliché, but I didn't want to end up being another cog in a machine. I was very excited to be at a place where if I proved myself early, I would get more substantive work early, and that has really panned out for me.” As well as California (San Fran, LA, Orange County), attorneys are to be found in Chicago, Dallas, Austin, Houston, Newark, New York, DC, Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and Seattle.
Get Hired & Strategy
We asked juniors what sort of person the firm looks to hire, and most agreed that social skills were a must. “I found out that in my first interview," one newbie told us. "They were pre-screening me to see if I would be cool enough to take for drinks with the client!” Another noted that “Sedgwick doesn't necessarily look for the applicants from the best schools with the highest grades. Obviously grades are important, but it's more important to make sure the person will fit into our culture.” And be certain that the firm fits your interests; firm chair Michael Healy says that he looks for "those that are interested in, and committed to, the type of practice we have."
"We're comfortable with our geographical footprint."
In 2015, Sedgwick changed its formal summer program. Certain offices now take summer associates on a case-by-case basis – so candidates now have to apply directly to Sedgwick rather than through OCIs. This seems to be part of a broader strategy to focus on existing areas rather than expansion, as Michael Healy explains: "Sedgwick is different than some of our peers in that we're committed to growing and bolstering our traditional areas of strength in our traditional cities." He adds: "We're comfortable with our geographical footprint. We'd like to strengthen and broaden our expertise in the current offices."
And the removal of the summer program isn't the only change at Sedgwick. Michael Healy was appointed firm chair in 2015, and in addition, "there is a new insurance division chair, a new commercial division chair, and a new at-large member" on the five-person executive committee. While hefty expansion isn't on the cards currently, Healy tells us that the firm has been bringing laterals into the cybersecurity & privacy group, an area which "continues to grow in the US and in Europe," as well as "five maritime partners to our San Francisco office earlier this year."
The three main pillars of work are complex litigation, commercial, and insurance, and newbies join one of these three groups. Despite this, the work is not strictly segregated according to practice area: “The divisional differences don't actually affect my day-to-day, it's just the way they lump us into groups for organizational purposes.” As such, overlap between groups is fairly commonplace; we heard of newcomers in insurance, for instance, who had handled contract disputes and commercial litigation matters. Work allocation is an informal process, meaning “you've got to get out there. Thankfully I've never been in need of work here, and now there's a few partners I work for on a regular basis.”
"The firm encourages you to go out and build a book of business.”
In the insurance group, some had focused mainly on insurance coverage: “When insurance claims come in, the insurer comes to us to give them an opinion as to whether or not the claim is covered by the policy.” Others, meanwhile, had done more on the litigation side – always on behalf of the insurer. Over in complex litigation, we heard of newbies who had worked on cases involving the school district, as well as “a lot of landlord-tenant work and environmental toxic torts.” In the commercial group meanwhile, we spoke to juniors who had done work in construction, business litigation and retail. The latter usually involves defending retailers, with false advertising and deceptive pricing cases being cited as particularly common.
Our interviewees were generally very pleased with the level of responsibility they'd been offered. “I'm going to court regularly, I'm taking depositions, and appearing in front of arbitration panels,” one insurance junior told us. Another in the commercial group added that while some paper shuffling can be expected, “they also encourage you to branch out – we're not just stuck doing doc review every day. I've been able to take and defend depositions, take hearings, argue motions, and I'm about to second chair a deposition.” Direct client contact is also fairly frequent; associates informed us that they are “regularly on calls with clients,” and one newbie appreciated that “the firm encourages you to go out and build a book of business.”
Training & Development
Sedgwick organizes its training schedule through 'Sedgwick University', a program that offers classes and online resources on anything from “how to manage complex litigation to the correct way to bill entries to clients.” The training sessions are officially split into seven schools: law, ethics, leadership, personal and professional development, finance, marketing and business development, and technology. Our interviewees also mentioned a weeklong 'Trial Academy' for midlevel associates. The course is conducted in Dallas “with partners who act as judges, and you try two cases during the week. Everyone says it's one of the best experiences they've had at the firm.”
"Partners take time to go over things that I write."
Juniors “have to attend a certain number of in-house training sessions to be in good standing,” although many remarked that they had been given “a ton” of informal training and feedback too. One source noted that “partners take time to go over things that I write and send them back to me, so I can see how to improve.” There is also a yearly formal review, at which point associates “get a printout of feedback and constructive criticism, which is helpful.”
The majority of newbies are herded into Sedgwick's San Francisco HQ, “right in the heart of the financial district.” Associates loved their “floor-to-ceiling windows," and the great views were a definite plus: “I can see the bay and various iconic places in San Francisco like the Golden Gate Bridge.” Chicago juniors meanwhile enjoyed their “very spacious” offices and “nice big windows.” The on-site gym and cafeteria were also appreciated –“that's where I tend to eat breakfast and lunch.”
"It's really got that wow effect when you walk in.”
Over in LA, the office is allegedly “like a spa! We recently had the entire place remodeled from top to bottom,” chirped an eager newcomer. “Everything was repainted, there's a new kitchen, new fixtures, new lights – it's really got that wow effect when you walk in.” Another remarked that “the main conference room has a view from Hollywood to Century City to Santa Monica, and on a clear day you can see the ocean – it's a pretty panoramic view.”
We've mentioned Sedgwick's cordiality in past editions of Chambers Associate, and we were told that little has changed on that front: “For the most part, everyone here is very friendly and approachable. I'm not working with condescending or arrogant people.” One source highlighted that “I never feel competitive with the other associates; there's no real cut-throat culture here.” They went on to add that although “working at a firm of this nature is going to be stressful and intense, it's good to know that you don't have to look over your shoulder as you're facing the challenges!” And this friendliness isn't limited to associates – partners too are “very accessible, and they do a good job of communicating with younger associates. I go to informal lunches with partners, or into their offices to chat – I was just now talking to a partner about our weekends.”
"There's no real cut-throat culture here."
The phrase 'a good work/life balance' was frequently bandied about by the associates, but how does the firm promote this? “I like the fact that it's very hands-off, and I very much make up my own hours,” one source enthused. “Most of my team have kids, so the firm is very diligent about keeping work off our plate for weekends as much as possible.” Others pointed out that socializing among colleagues helped support a more balanced lifestyle. “We have a group that goes out regularly, and partners come along too,” one junior told us, adding that “there's a wine bar and cellar down the street and we go there all the time.” We heard that the firm itself is also good at arranging events: “A couple of years ago Sedgwick instituted an associate retreat, which is in a different office each year,” an interviewee informed us. The two-day event consists of a social gathering “something like a baseball game,” and “an open forum to hear about what's going on at the firm and within your division, which is always interesting. It's a great way to meet other people across the firm.”
Hours & Compensation
The 1,950 billable hours requirement at Sedgwick was generally considered “very achievable.” While the firm expects associates to hit this number, one junior commented: “I know some people have not hit their hours before, but it hasn’t resulted in anything besides the firm helping them to get more work.” As far as base salary goes, “we don't start at market, but it shows in the way we are afforded more flexibility with our hours, and I think it's a fair trade-off.” The firm tells us that salaries are "extremely competitive" given its size. Incoming associates' salaries vary on an individual basis depending on where they're based.
"We are afforded more flexibility with our hours."
Juniors need to bill 2,000 hours to get the first tier of bonus, which increases with every 50 additional hours above this. Once you hit 2,150, the increments increase to 75 hours. There were gripes about the salary in previous years – more specifically due to a lack of transparency. Unfortunately, “that is a recurring issue. It's not 100% clear to me how they choose the raises or what to pay you,” one newbie grumbled. Another added: “Basically you show up for your end-of-year review and they tell you what your salary is for next year – there's no negotiation.”
This somewhat undiplomatic approach was criticized in a separate instance: “They've just announced that they aren't going to give us a fee-sharing bonus if you bring in a new client.” Despite the grouching, however, many were satisfied with the system. “If I wanted to take it easy and only hit 1,950, I could,” one conscientious junior informed us, “and some people do that who are very content. I far exceeded that number this year, but I was also well rewarded for it – it's really what you make of it.”
"It's really what you make of it."
Exactly half of our interviewees had been involved in pro bono. They reported working on matters including immigration, veterans' affairs and legal guardianship cases. One junior remarked: “I had a friend who did a pet owner dispute!” As for those who hadn't been involved, one reason cited was that pro bono only counts toward the bonus: associates have to hit their 1,950 billing target before they can bill a total of 25 pro bono hours. Others were discouraged by the fact that pro bono projects weren't always readily available to them: “There's not really a folder of things we can do,” one source pointed out. “You have to decide what you want to do, then you go to the pro bono partner and open a matter.”
Pro bono hours
Sedgwick's five affinity groups aren't for keeping up appearances, and the feeling across the board was that “the firm does a very good job of promoting diversity.” The African American Lawyers Forum, Asian Pacific Islander Forum, Hispanic Lawyers Forum, LGBT Action Committee and Women’s Forum regularly organize events and presentations within the firm, as well as careers fairs aimed specifically at minority students. “We also have a law school program here that invites diverse students to come to the firm and see what it's like,” added one San Franciscan.
Nonetheless, as one associate deliberated, “there's always the opportunity to be more diverse, although that's not specific to Sedgwick.” Another added that the persistent problem of diversity further up the ranks still needs to be addressed, because while “at the bottom it looks diverse, the higher you go, the more that thins out.”
Chambers interview with Michael Healy, firm chair
Chambers Associate: How has the past year been for Sedgwick? Any highlights?
Michael Healy: We've had a fair amount of change over the past year. We run our firm through managing partners in each office, as well as a five-person executive committee, and in the past year, we have placed three new people on that committee. There is a new insurance division chair, a new commercial division chair, and a new at-large member. I served previously as the at-large member. Those that have joined most recently were strong leaders and contributors to the firm before becoming part of the executive committee.
We also relocated our firmwide critical support and administrative functions from San Francisco to Kansas City in 2014, which other firms are starting to do more now. This was a big move and was a tremendous amount of work for the administrative staff and partners in order to make the transition as smooth as possible. We're very strong in Kansas City now and very excited about our support staff there.
The area of cybersecurity and privacy continues to grow in the US and in Europe, and we have done a nice job of adding people to the firm with expertise in that area. An important benefit of our cyber practice is we're able to service our European clients together with US-based clients in a strong team approach. We also added five maritime partners to our San Francisco office earlier this year, which we is a logical extension of the type of work we do. This team is nationally recognized for their expertise and they'll lay the groundwork for our partners' efforts to add maritime lawyers in some of the other cities where we currently have offices.
CA: What's the broad strategy for Sedgwick moving forward?
MH: Sedgwick is different than some of our peers in that we're committed to growing and bolstering our traditional areas of strength in our traditional cities. Where a lot of firms are growing and trying to get into a lot of different cities, we're comfortable with our geographical footprint. We'd like to strengthen and broaden our expertise in the current offices.
CA: What is the firm doing to encourage and promote diversity?
MH: Following on from the great efforts of our prior chair, and thoughtfully guided by the tremendous efforts of our Inclusion and Diversity Committee and our Women's Forum, we're continuing to work hard to build and foster an inclusive environment across the firm. I am proud of the progess we continue to make and of the recognition we continue to receive as a leading firm in this area, but we will always strive to do better.
Very recently, we elected two women partners to key leadership position in the firm. Stephanie Sheridan was elected managing partner of our San Francisco office (our largest office) and Marilyn Klinger was elected chair of our Commercial Division. By virtue ofher new position, Marilyn also serves on the executive committee. Gene Brown, an African American partner in San Francisco, was elected as the at-large member of the executive committee when I became chair of the firm.
Overall, we know that our ability to provide our clients with diverse legal teams starts with us. Fundamentally we have to be able to recruit, retain and promote diverse lawyers and there are several factors that influence our ability to achieve that. What I can promise is that Sedgwick has been and will remain strongly committed to building a culture in which diverse lawyers are welcome and can have a great deal of success.
CA: How would you define Sedgwick's culture?
MH: I was fortunate enough to have very able and thoughtful mentoring early on in my legal career and throughout my time at the firm. We're reemphasizing the value of mentoring for all of our lawyers, including our associate attorneys in the firm. Mentoring is important for two reasons. The first reason is that obviously the quicker the development of our attorneys, the better off and stronger we are as a firm.
Secondly, the better the mentoring and relationships, the greater likelihood we have of retaining our strongest-performing associates. So, the firm at large is focused on and committed to mentoring our lawyers at every level and creating strong relationships between not only partners and associates, but also between our lawyers and staff. In addition, mentoring is a critical part of the integration into the firm of new lawyers, whether they're recent law school graduates or have joined us from another firm.
On a related note, we offer a very robust curriculum and calendar of legal training and education. Sedgwick University is a sophisticated program that runs throughout the year. Some of Sedgwick's most capable lawyers – as well as gifted lawyers and other professionals from outside the firm – come and talk about important and developing areas in the practice of law, and how to be more effective managers and lawyers. We invest considerably in terms of time and money into this training.
CA: What do you look for in a Sedgwick candidate?
MH: Obviously we need very capable people who are very dedicated to the practice of law as a long-term career plan. It wasn't that long ago that we didn't even hear or know anything about cybersecurity, for instance, so we need very capable lawyers who have the ability to detect and respond to a changing marketplace, and are willing to jump into a developing practice area.
Someone who was at law school ten – even five – years ago, probably doesn't know much about cybersecurity, and today it's an important practice. We've been fortunate to have a number of new associates who are enthusiastic about entering this new area. If someone works with me, it's easy for me to pass on my experience about the areas of law I practice in. However, if I'm new to a practice area, the associate and I must work together to figure things out, which means, we want associates with initiative, as well as the capacity and willingness to learn.
We are big believers in the interview process. First, we look for high performing students. Second, we want to find those that are interested in, and committed to, the type of practice we have. Thirdly, they need to possess not only intelligence, but also the skill set to excel in our areas of law. Our lawyers are advocating frequently in the court system, so it's important to have those skills and to want to refine them.
CA: Do you have any words of advice for those who are about to enter the legal profession?
MH: I would say pick an area that you want to practice in, and most importantly, pick a firm filled with individuals that you'd be comfortable practicing with for many years to come. I think those are the most important things. Also, make sure that you're with a firm that's committed to training and professional development. We work hard to train our lawyers and we work hard with our clients to create opportunities for new lawyers.
333 Bush Street,
- Largest Office: San Francisco, CA
- Number of domestic offices: 14
- Number of international offices: 2
- Partners (US): 110
- Associates (US):158
- Summer Salary 2016
- 1Ls: N/A
- 2Ls: Varies per office
- Post 3Ls: N/A
- 1Ls hired? No
Main areas of work
Sedgwick attorneys have skillfully managed complex litigation spanning multiple jurisdictions, from local to international. The firm has been retained in mass tort, class action, multi-district and market share litigation to defend and manage matters as national or regional trial counsel. We have served as national, regional and lead liaison counsel for a broad range of domestic and international companies in industries that include insurance, financial services, retail, pharmaceutical, automotive, media, food and beverage, and medical device manufacturing. Practice areas include antitrust and unfair competition, product liability, directors and officers liability, Bermuda Form, business litigation, intellectual property, healthcare, life sciences, real estate, property and casualty coverage, reinsurance, employment, insurance policy drafting/advice, international arbitration, and maritime.
Sedgwick LLP is a resolution-oriented firm. Founded in 1933, Sedgwick has grown into a broad-based international firm of 300 attorneys with 16 offices in the US, London and Bermuda. We have earned a reputation as a top litigation and trial law firm by winning cases and providing clients with sophisticated strategies. A significant number of our attorneys possess successful first-chair jury trial and arbitration experience. Sedgwick attorneys take pride in our longstanding client relationships and in our well-earned reputation for effective and economical representation of some of the world’s largest companies. Sedgwick works with clients to assess and manage risks, providing effective solutions through all aspects of government enforcement and compliance initiatives. Sedgwick also has a strong commitment to inclusion and diversity in the profession based on our belief that attorneys from diverse backgrounds and experiences, working toward a common goal, offer the best opportunity to deliver the superior legal services that our clients expect. We are honored to have been recognized for these efforts, including being named ‘100 Best Law Firms for Female Attorneys’ and ‘100 Best Law Firm for Minority Attorneys’ by Law360 and achieving a perfect score on the 2016 Human Rights Campaign Corporate Equality Index.
• Number of 1st year associates: 4
• Number of 2nd year associates: 7
• Clerking policy: No
Summer program components:
Sedgwick LLP does not have a formal summer program at the moment; however, the firm considers extraordinary candidates on an individual basis for summer associate positions at several of our offices. Participants receive excellent mentoring and training designed to expose them to the key practice areas of the firm. They receive firsthand courtoom experience, challenging ‘first year’ assignments, continuous evaluation and feedback and the opportunity to get to know the firm’s attorneys professionally and socially.