Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP - The Inside View

STB associates described their employer as “the definition of law firm excellence both in practice and culture.” What else did they have to say? Read on…

If you’ve always laughed at Homer’s antics, but consider yourself more of a Lisa Simpson, this might just be the firm for you. Like everyone’s favorite yellow middle child, this leading New York firm balances impressive intelligence with compassion. Simpson Thacher’s smarts have never been in doubt: excellent attorneys have flocked here since 1884, working on matters as seismic as the IPOs for both Facebook and Google and the latter’s $1.65 billion acquisition of YouTube.

The firm’s raked in more than 40 rankings in our sister publication Chambers USA including top spots nationwide for banking and finance, capital markets, elite corporate M&A, insurance disputes, private equity fund formation, real estate, securities litigation and tax. “We’re strong across all corporate practices,” sources declared. 75% of the juniors on our list slotted into these groups, including all the Los Angeles intake and all but one in Houston. “The firm is also very healthy financially and never makes associate pay cuts during economic downturns.”

“Some people call it collegiality, but I call it decency.”

Most juniors call the New YorkHQ home; they told us “STB is seen as the nicest BigLaw firm in the city.” We heard from many that a less cut-throat culture was a big draw to this firm in particular. “Some people call it collegiality, but I call it decency,” one explained. “It comes from our lockstep compensation and work assignment systems. There’s no reason to fight anyone or play a political game.” The other big hook for new associates was, unsurprisingly, Simpson’s prestige on the world stage.

The Work



Corporate is the destination of choice for most newcomers; others opted for the litigation, tax, real estate or executive compensation and employee benefits group. For the most part, associates get their assignments through a centralized staffing system, “but if you’ve worked with someone before and a similar case comes up they’ll staff you on it.” Sources were pleased that assigning partners “have a high-level view of your workload so if you’ve finished a case but it’s likely to be appealed, they won’t staff you on loads of new cases. They’re thoughtful like that, which makes life easier.” That said, some interviewees felt they couldn’t say no to new work.

Team litigation handles a panoply of matters like federal investigations and contract disputes but securities litigation is a significant chunk.Sources told us they’d been “air-dropped into discrete matters we’re expected to be an expert on,” like finding out how banks work and researching trading issues: “You have to learn the inner workings of a whole topic, which always changes. Issue spotting is the name of the game in the law: I’m extraordinarily nosey and love that I get to do it professionally!” Because associates “work with so many different clients and colleagues, no two days are the same and we’re always given new challenges” – our source meaning this in a good way.

“If it’s just me and a partner then I basically do everything.”

Typical tasks in this group depend on how cases are staffed: “If it’s just me and a partner then I basically do everything,” a junior said. “If the team’s bigger, the work is more spread out.” Fledgling associates take the first cut at drafting briefs and managing document review, which those we spoke to confirmed is as dull as it sounds. Luckily there’s more substantive work too: “My very first assignment was to prepare four named defendants for deposition, so I had to research what the other side could potentially try and pin on our clients” (under supervision of a more senior associate). Investigations call for “dozens of interviews to figure out what happened and what the client’s liability is," before presenting the findings: “That was one of the coolest things I’ve done.” Juniors also partake in court hearings, “but obviously we’re not arguing motions.”

Litigation clients: JPMorgan Chase, Twitter, Pfizer. Defended SeaWorld in a $450 million federal class action alleging the company misrepresented the impact of the Blackfish film on its attendance figures and subsequent stock value.

In New York, corporate rookies rotate through subgroups like M&A and capital markets before specializing into a specific practice. In Palo Alto and other offices, they remain generalists: “Teams aren’t big enough to have specialists.” Simpson’s clients include investment banks and private equity clients; where IPOs are concerned, one source told us they'd worked for “underwriters 60% of the time and issuers the other 40%” (great math), though the balance may vary. Sources explained that “most issuer clients don’t just come to us blindly, they’re usually companies which our private equity clients invest in,” which is also the case in funds. Junior responsibilities can be super varied, “which is a pro or con depending on your viewpoint.” Some felt “it would be good to understand how one task falls within the big picture and why it leads to another in a growth trajectory, but that doesn’t happen. It’s just a case of doing what needs doing.”

“You’re on the front line negotiating with GCs and partners at other firms pretty quickly.”

IPOs involve everything from checking 10-Ks (business performance forms submitted to the SEC) are filled out properly, to S-1 filings for companies planning to go public. Over in finance, juniors were tracking subscription agreements and communicating with investors; work for investors selling portfolio companies involved putting together marketing documents and non-disclosure agreements. “One thing that’s really unique is that every first-year gets put on an NDA team,” insiders said. “They’re heavily negotiated, which makes them time-consuming, but you get trained up on them and you’re on the front line negotiating with GCs and partners at other firms pretty quickly.”

Corporate clients: Boeing, Microsoft, La Quinta Holdings. Acted for financial market data and infrastructure provider Refinitiv in its $27 billion acquisition by the London Stock Exchange.

Hours & Compensation



Billable hours: no requirement or target

“The salary is so high it almost feels like a sham,” one source laughed. Topping up the market salary, Simpson gave out fall bonuses to “literally everyone” in 2020. The usual bonus is lockstep according to class year: “Everyone who’s In good standing gets a bonus.” Associates put in about 60 hours works of week on average according to our survey this year.

“Nobody watches over you to make sure you’re working.”

Litigation work comes in and out like the tides: “When I’m very busy I do 15-hour days, but other times I only work four hours,” a source shared. “There aren’t any meaningless late nights, and nobody watches over you to make sure you’re working.” Corporate associates were more likely to be consistently busy and some had worked 24 hours straight on occasion. Simpson started offering free weekly mediation sessions just before the pandemic, “but it’s up to you to find the time to participate.”

Diversity & Inclusion



STB offers subsidized gym membership and some associate we spoke to participated in daily fitness sessions. Sources felt “people do pay attention if you’re struggling. There’s no stigma around mental health struggles.” As we moved the conversation to diversity, interviewees suggested STB is on par with other BigLaw firms “which have struggled and are still struggling: I wish there were more female partners.”

“They’ve really been working on what they can do to be better.”

A number of initiatives are in place to address these issues. The firm’s diversity coordinator Arielle Parker runs regular events like the bi-annual diversity conference: “All the associates fly to New York for three days,” we heard. “Each affinity group puts on events too, like the Asian affinity group’s Lunar New Year dinner.”  There’s also a 1L diversity program, providing a summer internship to diverse law students; and all new starters undergo unconscious bias training in their first couple of weeks. Following 2020’s summer of protests, Simpson organized discussions about systemic race issues: “They’ve really been working on what they can do to be better.”

Culture



“This is a big New York firm, so everyone here is very intelligent, but the atmosphere isn’t buttoned-up,” sources suggested. Some put this down to partners’ attitudes: “They’re very good people, which might sound like not much of a compliment, but I’ve heard horror stories from other firms.” Busy is busy, but that comes with sympathy: “I’ve had partners email me work at 10pm but they tell me if it can wait until tomorrow. They know we’re overachievers so if they don’t say ‘don’t do it now,’ we’ll do it now.” Juniors confirmed the partners of today “remember that they were associates once,” and adjust expectations accordingly.

“Everyone here is very intelligent, but the atmosphere isn’t buttoned-up.”

Gratitude goes a long way in any workplace, and Simpson is no exception. “Once a partner reached out to me and said the client had thanked us, but their thanks went to me because it was my work,” a junior recalled. “That made my day.” Others told us “everyone sits together at lunch irrespective of class year or practice group,” and when HR noticed one particular group was putting on birthday celebrations, they dished out a budget for cake. When COVID-19 put future birthday parties on ice, associates were impressed with Simpson’s handling of the pandemic: “They’ve mitigated it well. The firm increased our tech budget and we’ve had happy hours and check-ins to remind us we’re part of a community.”

Pro Bono



Interviewees agreed the firm is committed to pro bono “and nobody tries to stop you doing it. You can credit it as billable work.” New arrivals get to propose the sorts of cases they might be interested in, with a range on offer including environment and civil rights matters. Everyone’s also welcome to bring in their own work or sign up for the projects circulated by pro bono counsel and director Harlene Katzman. “She never loses sight of cases, so that clients always have a lawyer even if the original lawyer left the firm.” Our sources worked on cases surrounding “Trump’s mass deportation of migrant children,” while others had worked on civil rights matters on behalf of prisoners: “I took three depositions and had primary responsibility for keeping the client updated. It was such great experience that I haven’t had in billable cases.”

Pro bono hours

  • For all US attorneys: undisclosed
  • Average per US attorney: undisclosed

Career Development



Every junior pairs up with a partner and at least one associate mentor, whom they meet at least once a quarter: “We get a reasonable budget to go for lunch with them and there’s no limit on how often you can meet,” according to a source. “I usually go once a week.” Informal mentorship is also common: “The firm might pay for you to go get your nails done or grab coffee with anyone, so long as they’re not in your class year.” Already mentors themselves, some third-years gave their experience from the other side: “I check in with my mentee every week and if I feel they’re pressurized, I’ll talk to staffing attorneys to help them out.”

“If I feel they’re pressurized, I’ll talk to staffing attorneys to help them out.”

Training at Simpson kicks off with a program called STBReady. All the firm’s training sessions are recorded and uploaded to the intranet, so associates can dip in and out as they please. Some were disappointed that one-to-one mentorship took a backseat during remote working, “though the firm has carried on with monthly group events. The litigation partners and associates often get together for a coffee and chit-chat.” Insiders told us that “as the pandemic has gone on, we’ve done more trivia nights and mixology events. We’ve definitely tried to adapt.”

Get Hired



The first stage: recruitment on and off campus 

OCI applicants interviewed: undisclosed 

Interviewees outside OCI: undisclosed 

Simpson interviews at the top 25 schools as well as regional schools local to its five offices. Additionally, the firm attends job fairs and holds resume drops at several schools and may interview applicants who contact the firm directly. 

Most OCIs are conducted by partners who are often alumni of the schools. "We ask students to tell us about projects they worked on the previous summer or their experiences analyzing questions of law while clerking with a judge or in law school,” a hiring partner at the firm tells us. Other questions will focus on experience working in teams and involvement in extracurricular activities. “We are determining how they may approach their job, if they are effective communicators, are enthusiastic, and if they would fit into our collegial environment.” In addition, our source explains that it's a good idea to "be honest about what and where you want to practice but also if you aren’t yet sure of either. We understand that many students, especially those who went straight from undergrad to law school, haven’t been exposed to enough real world work to know in what area they want to practice." 

Top tips for this stage: 

“Through the course of OCIs you will most likely be asked about every single thing on your resume so be prepared to discuss each one in-depth.” – hiring partner. 

Callbacks 

Applicants invited to second stage interview: undisclosed 

During a virtual callback, candidates typically meet with five attorneys, including two partners, two mid to senior level associates and one junior associate.  During Winter OCI in 2021, these meetings consisted of five consecutive 20-minute interviews run through the Flo Recruit platform. 

For a traditional callback at Simpson, a candidate will meet five or six people including two partners, two mid to senior level associates and one or two junior associates. Morning interviews consist of four 30-minute interviews in the office followed by a lunch with two junior associates. Afternoon interviews are made up of five 30-minute interviews, one of which will be over coffee with a junior associate. Evening interviews are similar to the afternoon format. 

“Our attorneys all have their own style of interviewing and we don’t have scripted questions,” the hiring partner revealed. Typically though, interviewers will follow on from questions asked in the OCI, “and also discuss the importance of understanding the client business. Candidates who show they understand this have a distinct advantage.” 

“Researching the firm is even more critical at this stage,” our source says. “Understand what our practice areas are and be ready to ask questions related to them.” Candidates should also be ready with questions about their interviewers. “Partners are always impressed when candidates ask about specific deals or cases on which they worked.” A corporate junior echoed this: “You don’t need to memorize what deals I’ve worked on, but being aware of what interviewers do shows us you’re thinking about how you fit into firm.” However, the hiring partner says: “Don’t panic if there is a last-minute change to your schedule. The replacement attorney with whom you are meeting knows you haven’t had a chance to research them.” The most important thing, no matter who’s interviewing you, is to show enthusiasm. 

Top tips for this stage: 

“I value the questions people ask me more than the questions I ask them.”  a junior associate. 

“We expect questions about what people do within each group and what a day in the life might be like in a specific group.”  hiring partner. 

Summer program 

Offers: undisclosed 

Each summer associate has assigning associates who will find assignments matching their interests and help navigate workloads and timelines. “Over summer you can try everything in every group, including all the small groups,” a junior associate divulged. Summers are also invited to attend firm-wide and departmental trainings in addition to summer-specific trainings. “The vast majority of summers return as junior associates, which includes a portion who join after judicial clerkships or fellowship opportunities,” the hiring partner says. “Summer associates will almost always know the practice area they want to join by the end of the summer.” 

Top tips for this stage: 

“Many times a good impression can come from simply asking questions and offering to pitch in with the smallest of tasks.”  a junior associate. 

“We encourage summer associates to work in as many practice areas as possible so they can make an educated decision on what group they would most like to join.” – hiring partner.

Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP

425 Lexington Avenue,
New York,
NY 10017-3954
Website www.simpsonthacher.com

  • Head Office: New York, NY
  • Number of domestic offices: 5
  • Number of international offices: 5
  • Worldwide revenue: $1,375,661,814
  • Partners (US): 158
  • Associates (US): 606
  • Contacts  
  • Main recruitment contacts: Susan Osnato, Chief Legal Talent Officer; Dan Vatanaviggun, Legal Recruiting Director 
  • Hiring partners: Rajib Chanda, Brooke Cucinella, Pete Gilman
  • Diversity officer: Carlos Dávila-Caballero, Director of Diversity
  • Recruitment details 
  • Entry-level associates starting in 2021: 104
  • Clerking policy: Yes
  • Summers joining/anticipated 2021:
  • 1Ls: 13, 2Ls: 139
  • Summers joining/anticipated 2021 split by office:
  • NY: 100, Houston: 19, Los Angeles: 7, Palo Alto: 15, Tokyo: 1, Washington, DC: 10
  • Summer salary 2021:
  • 1Ls: $3,660
  • 2Ls: $3,660
  • Split summers offered? Case by case
  • Can summers spend time in an overseas office? Yes, subject to need and relevant language skills

Main areas of work



 Clients in a wide array of industries and jurisdictions around the world turn to Simpson Thacher & Bartlett to help them address their evolving business needs. The firm is consistently ranked as one of the world’s leading advisors for M&A, capital markets and banking activity, as well as private equity fund formation and investment management. The firm’s litigation practice encompasses every type of complex litigation and is recognized as one of the most comprehensive, trial-ready litigation practices in the country.

Simpson Thacher also has leading innovative practices in the areas of antitrust, IP, tax, bankruptcy, real estate, executive compensation and employee benefits, exempt organizations and personal planning. Further, pro bono work is critical to the firm’s identity and its record in this area is unparalleled.

Firm profile



 Established in 1884, Simpson Thacher is one of the world’s leading international law firms, with more than 900 lawyers worldwide providing coordinated legal advice and transactional capability to clients around the globe. The firm is headquartered in New York City, and has offices in Beijing, Hong Kong, Houston, London, Los Angeles, Palo Alto, São Paulo, Tokyo and Washington, DC. Our focus on client needs is the hallmark of our practice and we value excellence in client service in all respects.

Recruitment



Law schools attending for OCIs in 2021:
Berkeley, Brooklyn, Cardozo, Chicago, Columbia, Cornell, UC Davis, Duke, Emory, Fordham, George Washington, Georgetown, Harvard, Howard, Michigan, NYU, Northwestern, Notre Dame, University of Pennsylvania, St. John’s, Seton Hall, Stanford, Texas, Toronto, Tulane, UCLA, USC, Vanderbilt, Virginia, Washington University, Yale.

Recruitment outside OCIs:
1L Summer Diversity Program, resume collects at various schools, Regional job fairs including, but not limited to: Bay Area Diversity, Northeast BLSA, Lavender Law, Midwest- California-Georgia Consortium, NYC Interview Program, On Tour, Patent Law Interview Program, Penn West Coast.

Summer associate profile:
The firm looks for candidates with distinguished records of achievement, demonstrated leadership potential, a commitment to excellence and the ability to work cooperatively with clients and colleagues.

Summer program components:
The Simpson Thacher Summer Program is both challenging and rewarding. Throughout the program, summer associates work alongside partners and associates on complex client projects. They have the opportunity to work on assignments from all practice areas to gain first-hand experience. The staffing team communicates regularly with summer associates to determine assignment preferences and to ensure that summer associates get exposure to meaningful work. Each summer associate is paired with partner and associate mentors charged with providing feedback and career guidance. Summer associates participate in frequent formal training programs and a variety of extracurricular events that help to foster strong connections at the firm. At the end of a summer with Simpson Thacher, an associate will have gained a thorough understanding of the firm’s work and broader culture.

Social media



Recruitment website: www.simpsonthacher.com
Linkedin: simpson-thacher-&-bartlett-llp

This Firm's Rankings in
USA Guide, 2021

Ranked Departments

    • Capital Markets: Debt & Equity (Band 1)
    • Corporate/M&A: Private Equity: The Elite (Band 2)
    • Corporate/M&A: The Elite (Band 4)
    • Corporate/M&A & Private Equity (Band 4)
    • Antitrust (Band 4)
    • Banking & Finance (Band 1)
    • Bankruptcy/Restructuring: The Elite (Band 4)
    • Corporate/M&A: The Elite (Band 1)
    • Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation (Band 1)
    • Environment: Mainly Transactional (Band 2)
    • Insurance: Dispute Resolution: Insurer (Band 1)
    • Litigation: General Commercial: The Elite (Band 3)
    • Litigation: Securities (Band 1)
    • Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations: The Elite (Band 3)
    • Private Equity: Buyouts (Band 1)
    • Real Estate: Mainly Corporate & Finance (Band 1)
    • Tax (Band 1)
    • Banking & Finance (Band 2)
    • Capital Markets: Debt & Equity (Band 4)
    • Corporate/M&A: The Elite (Band 4)
    • Antitrust (Band 4)
    • Antitrust: Cartel (Band 3)
    • Banking & Finance (Band 1)
    • Capital Markets: Equity: Issuer Counsel (Band 1)
    • Capital Markets: Equity: Manager Counsel (Band 2)
    • Capital Markets: High-Yield Debt (Band 2)
    • Capital Markets: Investment Grade Debt: Issuer Counsel (Band 2)
    • Capital Markets: Investment Grade Debt: Manager Counsel (Band 1)
    • Corporate Crime & Investigations: The Elite (Band 3)
    • Corporate/M&A: The Elite (Band 1)
    • Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation (Band 2)
    • Energy: Electricity (Transactional) (Band 2)
    • Environment: Mainly Transactional (Band 2)
    • FCPA (Band 4)
    • Financial Services Regulation: Financial Institutions M&A (Band 2)
    • Insurance: Dispute Resolution: Insurer (Band 1)
    • International Trade: CFIUS Experts (Band 2)
    • Private Equity: Buyouts: High-end Capability (Band 1)
    • Private Equity: Fund Formation (Band 1)
    • Real Estate (Band 1)
    • Registered Funds (Band 4)
    • REITs (Band 4)
    • Securities: Litigation (Band 1)
    • Securities: Regulation: Enforcement (Band 3)
    • Tax: Corporate & Finance (Band 1)