Three decades worth of consistent financial growth show that this Cali hotshot is very much still keeping its cool.
Sheppard Mullin has long been known at Chambers Associate for exuding a certain level of Cali cool from its LA home. After years of hearing juniors praise its distinctly West Coast culture, we typically picture its lawyers to be suavely clad in Ray-Bans, driving with the breeze in their hair along the Cali coast to the courthouse. Of course, the reality is very different: a great deal of work goes on behind the scenes, as shown by the firm’s successful exportation of its Cali BigLaw brand to major US markets like New York, DC and Chicago, as well as international hotspots in Asia and Europe. Work-wise, Chambers USA places Sheppard’s government contracts practice among some of the best in the US, while the firm’s work in renewable energy and Native American law also comes in for nationwide praise. The firm still picks up the majority of its Chambers USA accolades in its home state of California (where it has seven offices), which cover various areas of expertise, including labor & employment, general commercial litigation and banking & finance. As you might expect from a LA-founded firm, Sheppard’s transactional and litigious expertise in the media & entertainment space is recognized.
“...strong California presence.”
A recent lateral addition in LA has boosted the firm’s corporate group, which has been especially busy with private equity work of late. Corporate is not the only department that’s been busy at Sheppard, however: reports in the legal press at the time of writing highlighted how Sheppard had grown in gross revenue and profits over 2020, which continued an upward trajectory that’s been recorded by the firm for three decades. Executive committee chairman Guy Halgren told the press this success rate was down to the firm’s strategy of having a broad array of practices to see it through the good economic times and the bad. Such stability is a big draw for would-be associates, but our sources also highlighted several other reasons for joining Sheppard over the course of our research. Among them were the “quality people,”“hands-on experience,” “strong California presence,” and “great training opportunities.” Let’s explore in more detail...
Strategy & Future
A recent lateral addition in LA has boosted the firm’s corporate group, which has been especially busy with private equity work of late. Corporate is not the only department that’s been busy at Sheppard, however: reports in the legal press at the time of writing highlighted how Sheppard had grown in gross revenue and profits over 2020, which continued an upward trajectory that’s been recorded by the firm for three decades. At the time of our calls, sources told us that Sheppard was in the process of remodeling the New York office. “We are expanding in New York,” said one junior. “Senior management are currently reviewing the new space.” Bess Sully, who works within the firm's talent management, gave us more details: “The office has outgrown its original space; our headcount has grown exponentially in the past few years.” The firm has also created an all-new inclusion and engagement task force: “One of the ways the team work to support attorneys is through educational speakers coming into the firm and discussing D&I issues.”
Sheppard’s corporate, business trial, and labor & employment groups held a large number of juniors on our list. Associates had also found a home (in smaller numbers) in areas like IP, finance & bankruptcy and real estate. The nature of work assignment can vary depending on office, we heard. For example, in DC, the corporate group has quite a formal system that involves “partners distributing matters down to the associates based off of their availability.” However, the same department in another office was said to have “a free-market system – we're able to get work from particular partners within the department, although since COVID started they did introduce an online platform where you indicate how busy you are.” This system has now been rolled out to all corporate associates.
“The partners give you a lot of ownership over the case.”
Over in corporate, juniors mentioned that there’s plenty of work in the private equity and venture capital spaces.Associates had mingled with clients from the entertainment, food and beverages, financial services, aerospace, renewables and healthcare industries. For Sheppard’s juniors, this meant a lot of “M&A work with private equity clients within the middle-market.” Sources also mentioned working on CPG (customer package goods) deals. Associates had done a lot of document drafting on the likes of “purchase agreements, commercial contracts and ancillary documents.” One junior quipped: “Most of the time I’m just wondering how I’m going to make it through two hundred contracts by the end of the week!” Toward the end of their third year, associates had taken a more managerial role, especially on smaller deals. “I’ve always been attracted to learning,” said one junior, who went on to explain how appealing it was that “no deal within corporate is the same – you’re always learning new ways of seeing the world and products.” Even those who were more junior felt satisfied with their amount of client contact they’d had: “I get exposure to clients without having to worry about it because there is always a more senior member of staff around to help me.”
Corporate clients: Redgate Partners, ETS Express, Lakeshore Entertainment. Acted for talent agency ICM as it sold a minority stake in the company to New York-based private equity firm Crestview Partners.
Chambers USA highlights Sheppard’s labor & employment work in the healthcare, transportation and hospitality sectors, as well as its expertise in areas like wage and hour disputes, harassment claims and discrimination cases. This source had “primarily worked on the litigation side” and enjoyed “a wide range of responsibilities under that.” Responsibilities for juniors can include “drafting motions, attending hearings, participating in initial investigations like witness reviews, conducting research and pretty much drafting across the board of documents.” Leanly staffed cases involving “just one partner and one associate” had led to this degree of responsibility: “The partners give you a lot of ownership over the case.” Discrimination cases, for example, had given this source the chance to “walk matters through from start to finish, from what we should file for and raising the complaint to conducting interviews and conducting discovery.” A junior felt that they “didn’t really have a consistent day,” with plenty of variety thrown into the mix.
Labor & employment clients: Chipotle, Whole Foods Market, Queen of the Valley Medical Center. Recently defended Chipotle against an attempt to gain class certification for a dispute over the alleged denial of overtime pay for workers in six states.
Interviewees generally gave a big thumbs up to career development at the firm, with this junior enthusing that “there are plenty of opportunities to flourish within my career and enhance my skills.” For this associate, the sense of being developed was felt early-on: “The senior and midlevel associates are invested in your growth. The developmental opportunities occur as soon as you start as a first-year. I couldn't be happier with my choice.”
“Developmental opportunities occur as soon as you start as a first-year.”
We were told of various initiatives and models that are used to develop associates, including mentors, associate forums, online training content, CLEs and various lawyer academies. On the latter note, Sheppard hosts academies for new lawyers, midlevels and those aiming for the partnership – all of which outline the relevant skills and criteria for that role level. Every associate is assigned a partner mentor, but we heard that midlevels frequently act like informal mentors to newbies: “You can always go to them for advice.” A corporate attorney noted that their mentor “does a great job of walking me through the transactions and making sure I have the ability to become a great lawyer.” Review processes take place toward the end of the year and give juniors a forum to “discuss comments and feedback from senior attorneys that you’ve worked with the most over the course of that year.” In their eighth year, associates can then opt to be in the running to make partner.
This Orange County-based junior felt that “the atmosphere is very dependent on what office and practice group you’re in – in the OC, we’re slightly smaller and very close-knit.” This didn’t necessarily mean that things were more impersonal in bigger offices like New York – quite the opposite in fact, as this source attested: “Everyone takes a real interest in you as an individual as opposed to just focusing on work.” Down south in Texas, associates bonded over similar tastes for hilarity, with this interviewee cheerily describing how “people are always cracking jokes!” As for elsewhere in cool Cali, it's all about being your best self and helping others to succeed too: “My office is full of genuine people who care about cultivating new leaders.”
“The office is full of genuine people who care about cultivating new leaders.”
With these comments in mind, we weren’t surprised to hear that there’s a pretty active social life at Sheppard Mullin: in more normal times juniors had attended happy hours, Thanksgiving dinners and summer activities, but had still been able to enjoy their virtual equivalents throughout 2020. Interviewees told us that teams also stay in touch via weekly ‘check-in calls.’
Hours & Compensation
Billable hours: 2,000 target
The billing target for the bonus was upped in 2020 to 2,000 hours. These hours must be made up of a minimum of 1,950 client billable hours, though once an associate hits 1,750 they can count unlimited pro bono toward their billables figure. Our sources had no problem hitting the hours target. Juniors spoke of working 12+ hour days on average, with corporate highlighted as a department with some particularly long hours at times. Juniors didn’t feel like they were left to work late on their own, however, and mentioned that “partners also work these hours – they are in the trenches with us.” Another interviewee reasoned: “It's BigLaw, so I expected to work hard – it's no surprise!” Those in the corporate practice did highlight that their workload had increased during the pandemic, leading to longer hours, with one explaining that late finishes had become the norm in recent months. This did lead to comments about teams being too leanly staffed at the moment. However, in other practices like labor & employment, one felt that their work/life balance “has improved during COVID – there’s more flexibility.”
“It's BigLaw, so I expected to work hard – it's no surprise!”
Associates are required to hit 1,950 hours, but are eligible for a full bonus at 2,000. Smaller bonuses are available at lower hours tiers. One source enthused: “I’m happy with the compensation – the firm pays market.” Some felt a little disappointed that they did not initially receive a ‘special’ COVID workload-related bonus like peer firms; Sheppard did give these out after our interviews took place.
Diversity & Inclusion
A source noted how Sheppard had committed to “help with racial equality issues in the summer” of 2020, while others highlighted the firm’s efforts to mark Black History Month in February 2021. The overarchingdiversity committee was praised for being “robust and putting a real effort” into its initiatives – one such initiative is a monthly event, which occasionally involves “third-party experts coming to talk about diversity and inclusion – they are doing a great job!” Juniors in the New York corporate group felt that the firm had done a good job at fostering gender diversity in their group, while a DC source was pleased to see “a lot of money and outreach going to law school [diversity recruitment efforts].” Sheppard also has several affinity groups: there’s the Diversity and Inclusion Attorney Network (DIAN, for attorneys of color), Out at Sheppard (OAS), the Women Lawyers Group (WLG) and Veterans at Sheppard (VAS).
In 2020, Sheppard hired its first ever dedicated pro bono partner, Daniel Brown, who’s based in the New York office. Unlimited pro bono billable credit gave sources the chance to work on the various matters that Sheppard handles, includingasylum, adoption, human rights and domestic violence cases. On the transactional side, interviewees mentioned how they devote time to advising nonprofits that focus on areas like affordable housing and services to assist small businesses. While pro bono is “highly encouraged, no one is breathing down your neck about it,” and a few of our interviewees mentioned how they hadn’t done many hours. Those who had, told us how gratifying adoption cases were, as “you get to meet the family and the child being adopted, and file all the paperwork for them.” A civil rights matter had involved suing a county for the excessive force used during an arrest, which led to a trial, “many motions and a lot of negotiations too.”
Pro bono hours
- For all US attorneys: 28,919
- Average per US attorney: 31.6
The first stage: recruitment on and off campus
OCI applicants interviewed: 960
Interviewees outside OCI: 50
Sheppard Mullin attends OCIs at schools around the country, but UCLA and USC are typically top feeder schools due to the firm’s presence in Southern California. Depending on the school, the firm may interview anywhere between ten and 150 students on campus. OCIs are conducted by a mix of partners and associates. Hiring sources at the firm tell us interviewers are evaluating candidates “on key characteristics such as communication, preparedness, academic credentials, prior work experience, technical skills, interest in our firm, interest in the law, leadership skills and drive.”
Top tips: “Do your homework to find out what practice areas are hiring and explain why you want to practice in those specific areas.” – hiring sources at the firm
Applicants invited to second stage interview: 275
At the callback stage, candidates meet with four to six attorneys – again, a mix of both partners and associates. If there’s enough time, candidates will also go for a meal with attorneys. “We use behavioral interview questions during our callback process,” hiring sources at the firm tell us. “The questions are aimed at distilling the candidate’s skills, client service and value, self-awareness, communication and critical thinking skills, as well as their ability to work in a team and self-manage.”
Top tips: “I would encourage you to find someone you can call in advance and talk to. If you’ve spoken to people at different offices, the firm thinks you’re really working for this.” – a junior associate
“Read up on different interviewing techniques and styles, attorney bios, practice areas, and firm clients in advance.” – hiring sources at the firm
Sheppard Mullin’s ten-week summer program starts off with a reception and two-day summer associate academy in LA. The firm tells us the program is “designed to acquaint students with the firm’s practice through hands-on work experience and lawyers through a variety of social activities and work assignments.” Each office has a work assignment coordinator to distribute pieces of work for the summers. These assignments are then reviewed and feedback is delivered at mid-summer and end-of-summer reviews. Sheppard Mullin also understands the importance of socializing and networking: “The summer is a time for you to get to know the firm and the firm to get to know you! Attend the events and lunches, build relationships, go to court or client meetings, and have fun.”
Top tips: “You need to be independent because you need to go out and get work via our free market system.” – a junior associate
“Demonstrate your ownership and ability to work hard – if you make a mistake, own up to it immediately and propose a solution.” – hiring sources at the firm
Associates advised candidates to “keep in mind that we hire summers by practice area, specifically for corporate, labor & employment, business trial and healthcare, as opposed to hiring you as a general summer associate.”
“There are no rainmakers here who play golf all week!” One junior associate told us. “Work is very important; the firm expects talented attorneys.”
Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton LLP
333 South Hope Street,
- Head Office: Los Angeles, CA
- Number of domestic offices: 11
- Number of international offices: 4
- Worldwide revenue: $867,400,000 (2020)
- Partners (US): 392
- Associates (US): 378
- Special counsel (US): 84
- Staff attorneys (US): 60
- Of counsel (US): 62
- Main recruitment contact: Michael Garms (firstname.lastname@example.org)
- Hiring partner: Bess Sully (Chief Human Resources Officer)
- Diversity officer: Lois Durant (Director of Diversity & Inclusion and Talent Strategy)
- Recruitment details
- Entry-level associates starting in 2021: 37
- Clerking policy: Yes
- Summers joining/anticipated 2021:
- 1L: 3; 2Ls: 55
- Summers joining/anticipated 2021 split by office:
- LA (Downtown): 11, LA (Century City): 7, Costa Mesa, CA: 2, San Diego, CA (Downtown): 2, San Diego, CA (Del Mar): 8, San Francisco, CA: 5, Palo Alto, CA: 1, Chicago, IL: 3, Dallas, TX: 3, Washington, DC: 10, New York, NY: 6
- Summer salary 2021:
- 1Ls: $3,654 per week
- 2Ls: $3,654 per week
- Split summers offered? No
- Can summers spend time in an overseas office? No
Main areas of work
Major Industry Focus: Aerospace and defense; blockchain technology and digital currency; construction; energy; fashion, apparel and beauty; food and beverage; healthcare; hospitality; insurance; life sciences; private wealth; retail.
Columbia, Fordham, George Washington, Georgetown, Harvard, Hastings, Howard, U. of Illinois, Loyola (L.A.), U. of Michigan, Notre Dame, Pepperdine, Santa Clara, Southwestern, Stanford, UC Berkeley, UC Davis, UC Irvine, UCLA, USC, USD, USF, Virginia, Vanderbilt, Washington & Lee; plus several regional/ national/diversity job fairs.
Summer associate profile:
High academic achievement is a precondition to employment. But the firm is interested in more than that: it seeks associates who will succeed over the long term. It looks for associates who have the personal traits needed to become outstanding practicing lawyers: self-awareness, drive to succeed, capacity for hard work and an ability to work well with other people.
Summer program components:
The firm’s ten week summer program is structured to give students an idea of what life is like as an associate with the firm. Our summer associates do meaningful, billable work and work closely with partners and associates in various practice groups. Summer associates are given opportunities to attend depositions and court appearances, participate in conference calls and negotiations, draft documents and sit in on meetings. All summer associates work on at least one pro bono project. We also offer comprehensive transactional and litigation training programs. Attorney mentors assist the students in a variety of ways throughout the summer, and we plan a well-balanced calendar of social events that gives students the opportunity to get to know our attorneys outside of the office as well as enjoy the geographic area in which they are working.
This Firm's Rankings in
USA Guide, 2021
- Antitrust (Band 3)
- Banking & Finance (Band 4)
- Bankruptcy/Restructuring (Band 4)
- Construction (Band 4)
- Healthcare (Band 2)
- Insurance: Insurer (Band 2)
- Labor & Employment (Band 3)
- Litigation: General Commercial: Highly Regarded (Band 2)
- Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations (Band 4)
- Media & Entertainment: Litigation (Band 4)
- Media & Entertainment: Transactional (Band 3)
California: Los Angeles & Surrounds
- Corporate/M&A: Highly Regarded (Band 1)
California: San Diego
- Litigation: General Commercial (Band 2)
- Real Estate (Band 3)
District of Columbia
- Corporate/M&A & Private Equity (Band 4)
- Telecom, Broadcast & Satellite (Band 4)
- Construction (Band 4)
- Healthcare (Band 3)
USA - Nationwide
- Energy: Oil & Gas (Regulatory & Litigation) (Band 5)
- Government Contracts: The Elite (Band 2)
- Healthcare: Highly Regarded (Band 2)
- Native American Law: Finance (Band 1)
- Projects: Renewables & Alternative Energy (Band 4)