If you prefer congenial teamwork to wrestling glory away from your colleagues, take note: this venerable New Yorker is deliberately “set up to avoid a cage match.”
FOR new associates, Simpson Thacher “stood out as a firm that had it all.” Year in, year out, Simpson’s prestigious reputation plays its part in enticing fresh talent: “We’re certainly proud of our heritage.” That’s a heritage reaching back to 1884, making it as old as The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. And just as that novel's reputation as one of the greats has endured, so too has Simpson Thacher's – it remains comfortably nestled in the upper echelons of BigLaw. “There’s a sense of putting our heads together for something larger than us. Partners talk about previous partners, and building on the work they’ve done.” That work includes advising on the five biggest LBOs in business history, dabbling in eight-digit deals, and picking up the phone to big-name clients like Google, Microsoft, Hilton, JP Morgan and DreamWorks. And it’s very much got the stamp of approval from Chambers USA: its clutch of nationwide rankings reveals transactional and litigious strengths, with top praise awarded to the firm's banking, capital markets, corporate, insurance disputes, private equity, real estate, securities litigation and tax practices.
So it’s got the prestige and then some, but like your mother keeps telling you, looks aren’t everything. What about personality? Current associates were keen to tell us that “there’s a culture of positivity that carries on from generation to generation, so you have a never-ending cycle of good people coming to the firm.The best thing about working at Simpson is being at the forefront of something that has potentially never been done before, with some of the brightest people in the industry.” Prestige? Check. Interesting work? Check. Personality? Check. “If I could hit the reset button I’d end up at Simpson again.”
Simpson’s sizable corporate group claimed the bulk of junior associates on our list, while litigation took just over a quarter. The rest were sprinkled between real estate, tax, and executive compensation and benefits. As it currently stands, corporate juniors rotate through three out of four sub-groups (M&A, capital markets, banking and credit, and funds) before typically choosing a specialty. This system is about to undergo a slight change; from 2018 incoming first-years will rotate through two. The current lot appreciated rotating instead of diving straight into a group – “you could makea premature and awful choice that way!Rotating gives youan extra layer of knowledgebefore specializing.” But not everybody does: Simpson’s backing of the generalist means there are partners “who take pride in doing everything, even 20 or 30 years into their career!”
“You can become an expert in just a few years.”
Associates identified “meritocracy” as the common denominator between the corporate groups: “You don’t feel like a paper pusher, you feel like an actual attorney.” M&A may entail “more typical junior tasks, like diligence” but we also heard of associates getting to “strategize with a partner on a complicated deal, bouncing ideas back and forth. It was really cool to have those high-level discussions where no idea was a bad idea.” In funds, “everyone does everything. You can expect to do some drafting and coordinating, and when the fund is actively fundraising, organizational aspects become entirely mine.” By the end of a stint in banking and credit, capable associates were “getting to run the closing process on deals for both borrowers and lenders.” The split in capital markets is roughly “60/40 debt over equity deals from both the issuer and underwriter side.” The group’s lean staffing made for “a frustrating, terrifying, but ultimately good learning experience. If I had one complaint, it'd be that there have been times where I’ve had too much responsibility and not enough oversight, but on the upside you can become an expert in just a few years.”
There’s no rotation system in litigation, which is governed by a generalist approach.Associates had sampled “a hodgepodge” of different matters, like government investigations, IP cases, securities disputes and insurance work. During an antitrust case, associates were “working with an Israel-based client, our colleagues in the London office and local councils across the world. At one point we had all these different clocks on the wall and spent a lot of time working out the math!” Common tasks for junior litigators include pouring through discovery materials, writing briefs and even conducting client interviews: “Youdon’t get sidelined with junior tasks. The fact is you’re too valuable to be doing photocopies.” Sources typically jumped on cases at different stages in the litigation cycle, allowing for plenty of variety: “You could be working on discovery for one and an appellate brief for another.”
“The fact is you’re too valuable to be doing photocopies.”
A centralized staffing program across all groups and offices ensures “work is allocated based on availability.” Everyone gets the same amount of work, so “you don’t feel as if you’re busting your hump when someone else isn’t.” Sources were glad that the system gave them “one less thing to worry about,” and also found it “easy to just raise your hand and say, ‘I’m interested in X type of work, could you keep me in mind when it comes around?’ That actually works amazingly.”
Training & Development
First-years are assigned a partner and an associate mentor: “They don't throw mentors blindly at you; they allocate based on who’s taken an interest in you and as a result you can tell people are invested in your development.” On top of these formal channels, more informal wisdom is in bountiful supply: “The benefit of a large firm with so many specialties is that there's always someone to teach you something you wouldn’t otherwise know.” An initial blast of “general skills training applicable to your group” scored positive reviews: “I learned about negotiating and how to effectively read and mark up contracts, for example.” This is followed by monthly 'lunch and learn' sessions, which were described as “extensive and robust.”
We did hear mixed feedback when it came to annual reviews. First-years get two reviews and found it “really cool to get that feedback early on: a partner sits you down and goes through the various reviews filled out by people you've worked with. There's a good amount of constructive criticism.” Others were less impressed: “My mid-year review wasn't particularly useful – it lasted ten minutes and the partner said, 'We'll talk in more detail when there's more to go on.'” However, juniors did appreciate getting to give anonymous “upward” reviews: “It’s a great thing for accountability.”
Hours & Culture
With no official billing requirement, new associates can sometimes wonder if they're billing the right amount, but there's no need to panic: “I had lower hours at the beginning and was a little concerned it would come up in my review, but actually I was pleasantly surprised. They just told me it would pick up.” And after a while, “you just don’t think about it. You enjoy the slower days because you’re not worried about hitting a certain number.” Associates receive a lockstep bonus and are encouraged to take vacation: “I can’t think of anyone who hasn't taken the full amount.”
Full vacation, standardized bonuses and no billing requirement… Associates felt all of these factors (along with the centralized staffing) shaped the firm’s overall culture: “It’s set up to avoid a cage match situation. No one is hoarding work. There’s enough stress in BigLaw without having to figure out politics.” With a white-shoe legacy comes an inevitable preconception of stuffiness, but associates were quick to set the record straight: “It’s not too stuffy or too relaxed – it’s like Goldilocks, they’ve got it just right.” Across the board, juniors were comfortable with their colleagues: “It’s supportive from junior to partner level. Icalled someone up at midnight one Saturday and they walked me through every step of an assignment.” Another junior added: “The stratification here doesn't leave you intimidated by senior people. The worst I got was a disappointed sigh which, frankly, I deserved!”
“It’s set up to avoid a cage match situation.”
Another reason why juniors weren't so worried about billing hours is because they work so many: “Days can bewild.” Fortunately for litigators, “no one is interested where I’m working from,” but in corporate Simpson “isn’t as permissive as other firms” and often expects juniors to be in the office. We spoke to associates who regularly worked 12-hour days and more, particularly in corporate: “I plan to be here late every night.” This lifestyle “sometimes” allows for a social life, but can be “so bad people usually just want to go home and go to bed. Occasionally you think you have your weekend, then an email comes through and suddenly it’s gone. I wish some people would lose my number!” On the plus side, when associates are holed up together into the wee hours “you have a nice sense of camaraderie – my friends at other firms will tell you I’m the happiest of the bunch!”
“No matter where you live” in NYC, it’s a breeze getting to Simpson’s “super centralized” HQ, where the majority of associates are based. Situated across the street from Grand Central, the “open and light” office recently had a glass interior fitted – part of the “glass wall movement” sweeping the nation’s law firms. Now that they’re used to the transparent space, associates had only one lamentation: “I can’t take my shoes off late at night because people can see!” More than making up for these footwear-related anxieties is the “unbelievable” cafeteria: “It's amongthe best in the city. The staff put a smile on my face every day. I have friends at other firms who want to come.”
The firm has another four US offices located in Palo Alto, LA, Washington and Houston.
Simpson’s diversity mentoring program gives diverse associates the option of being paired up with a mentor for just over 12 months: “I met up with mine to chat for an hour once every three weeks.” So far, over 200 associates have signed up for the program. In addition, there's a diversity retreat, which allows “diverse associates to get together to talk about what needs to be focused on, before taking our suggestions to partners.” Simpson has affinity groups for women, ethnic minorities and LGBT associates, as well as an Urban Education Initiative which partners with local schools in New York and LA to expose diverse students to the profession from a younger age.
Further up the ladder, “it would be nice to have more female partners, but you can find role models in different groups. I’m most aware when I’m the only woman on a case, and there’s been a decent number of those. I always feel respected, but it’s a little shocking that in a big group of people we can’t wind up with more of a balance.” Female juniors on the whole felt that “it’s hard being a woman in BigLaw, but the firm makes it easier.”
“There’s no minimum hour requirement, but pro bono is valued just as much as the work we do for paying clients.” We spoke to associates who’d racked up 150-plus pro bono hours and had the goods to show for it: “You get an award for doing more than 100 hours. I think a lot of people get them.” Some of the cases we heard about involved spousal support issues, unemployment benefits, rent disputes and harassment complaints: “A school district reached out to us because a parent was harassing teachers at a school. We were able to persuade the detective to issue an arrest warrant, and after that’s effectuated we can go get a protective order.”
“You get an award for doing more than 100 hours.”
The firm is also “pretty heavily involved in immigration matters; we do permanent residency applications and amicus briefs. The environment is another longstanding focus for Simpson, and we also host pretty regular clinics with small businesses to help get them off the ground.”
Pro bono hours
- For all US attorneys: 48,359
- Average per US attorney: 63
Strategy & Future
“We want to continue to capitalize on our strengths with regards to our institutional client platform,” chairman Bill Dougherty tells us. With no plans to expand its geographic footprint at the moment, Simpson's focus is on developing its current offices. In the US, the firm's been building up its regulatory capabilities in DC in particular. On a more firm-wide level, Dougherty explains that “our technology practice is critically important for the future; technology is disrupting industries all around us, so we want to make sure we remain very present in that space and continue to work with the new wave of technology companies, like Airbnb and Tesla, whose offerings we participated in last year.”
‘Fit.’ A small word with big potential, and it permeates Simpson Thacher’s approach to recruiting. Along with the academic credentials and the usual attributes (respectful, kind, a team player), “what Simpson most values is how they think you’ll fit.” Again and again, associates wanted to tell us how important ‘fit’ is to the firm, but what exactly do they mean by it?
“Speak to enough people (which I advise you do), and you can start to pick up on themes and commonalities. What you’ll find at Simpson are smart, hard-working people who are also balanced. You have to bring your A-game, but it’s not the sole reason for being. We're not into people who are just focused on trying to sell themselves in interviews; just be a normal person at lunch and feel free to talk about your life – not just the law! They screen pretty hard for people who are gonna be nice.”
While the firm values a generalist approach, interviewers do prefer if candidates have some idea of the practice areas they’re interested in. “The most common mistake I see is people not having an answer to litigation versus corporate. You’re interviewing with Simpson because you know it’s a good firm, but showing you've put thought into your career will make your performance stronger.” That said, take heed if you know exactly what you want to be doing right off the bat. “If you’re interested in white-collar, you’re likely to be doing that and other types of work. So if you’re interested in white-collar and that’s all you’re interested in, Simpson might not be the best fit.” The takeaway: know the general ball park you want to operate in, but remain flexible enough to happily sample various areas within it.
Interview with Simpson's chairman Bill Dougherty
Chambers Associate: What’s the general strategy going forward?
Bill Dougherty: We want to continue to capitalize on our strengths with regards to our institutional client platform. We’re happy with our geographical footprint. I think we’ve made a big push to rethink the way we train and guide our associates; we recognize that some segments of lower-level work are going to disappear over time due to technology and cost pressures, so we’re really trying to push ourselves to get even better, more sophisticated work down to our younger associates. I think it’s essential for us and critical for associates to feel that they’re capable of doing it, and we want to make sure they've got the technology tools to facilitate that.
CA: To what extent does Simpson promote a generalist approach when developing its attorneys?
BD: We've maintained a rotation system for associates in corporate to give them exposure to a number of different practice areas. We’re committed to that and want to streamline it to make it even more effective. It’s important that we develop an awareness in our associates – call it ‘field vision’ if you will – of what’s important in adjacent practices. We tend to work on large matters in cross-practice teams, so the more familiar our junior associates are with a variety of practices and issues, the better lawyers they'll become in whichever area they choose to specialize in. We train attorneys broadly so they are better equipped to adapt to the changing legal field.
CA: Which practice areas are changing right now?
BD: We’re continuing to build up some of our regulatory capabilities in the DC office. We’ve made a couple of selective lateral hires in antitrust and investment funds, and I see that focus continuing. I think our technology practice is critically important for the future; technology is disrupting industries all around us, so we want to make sure we remain very present in that space and continue to work with the new wave of technology companies, like Airbnb and Tesla, whose offerings we participated in last year. We want to keep abreast of changes in the economy generally, and a lot of technology companies are at the forefront of that.
CA: Many associates this year emphasized that certain aspects of Simpson's business model have a significant impact on lessening competition among colleagues – is that a conscious arrangement?
BD: It’s very deliberate, and it’s been that way since I joined the firm 30 years ago. We do believe in lockstep for associates, and we do actively encourage them to share information with their colleagues – it’s not a competitive environment. We’re very pleased with the way we train associates, and think we develop the talent better than most, frankly. That’s an important part of it: from the moment they walk in the door we want them to act as a team. That’s what we do as partners; it’s important to our culture to maintain that collegial and collaborative aspect throughout the partnership as well.
CA: As a large firm, how does Simpson try to maintain transparency with its junior associates?
BD: I think we’ve recognized that associates want information about the global picture, and we have had a number of meetings over the course of the year to try to convey that information to them. I was meeting associates in the Palo Alto office just recently, in order to field their questions about the technology practice out there. I think we’re pretty open about it; they know the firm is doing well, and we've been able to maintain a good dialogue with them over the years. We have an open door policy and believe that our junior associates are entitled to information as they shape their own careers.
CA: What advice do you have for students trying to enter the legal profession?
BD: There’ll be changes in this profession, and they'll occur at an accelerating pace over the years to come. It’s a great profession, and will always be in demand. People will always need counsel and advice to get from point A to B, or out of difficult situations. It’s very gratifying and I would encourage students to stay with it – there’ll be disruption to the industry (as there will be with lots of industries), but the need for good, sage counsel will always be present.
Interview with Simpson's hiring partners Krista Miniutti, Nick Goldin and Rajib Chanda
Chambers Associate:How is your summer program shaping up for next year?
Krista Miniutti: We’relooking to keep a somewhat smaller class. We’ve had a few larger classes over the years, but what we’ve seen is that through the advances in technologies and efficiencies that we’ve introduced, we’ve been able to manage work more efficiently at junior levels, so we thought it made sense looking forward .
Nick Goldin: We also think that this will allow each summer associate to have a much stronger experience because there will be richer work. Let’s be honest, not every assignment is identical and some are better than others. Smaller classes mean that more desirable and richer assignments get distributed to more people. We anticipate that each summer will have a more beneficial experience.
Rajib Chanda: We're looking to recruit the best people at the summer stage in order to retain the best people later. We want to concentrate on the elite performers coming out of school, and give them better assignments and more mentoring in the hope that it will lead to longer careers within the firm.
CA:What makes someone stand out in an interview?
KM: We are collegial and operate as a team, so when we look at potential summers we really focus not just on academic credentials, but also on their passions and extracurricular activities. Do those things show us that they can work well in a team?
NG: Sometimes students ask: ‘What does it take to succeed and get an offer from Simpson?’ What I often say is that of course strong credentials and leadership qualities matter. What I also say is that it’s helpful to have an understanding of the client business. I don’t think every student understands what that means. We want to see candidates who understand that being in client service means a commitment to excellence, an understanding of clients' problems, and a drive to find the solution to them. Candidates who show they understand that have an immediate advantage.
What stands out in my mind is enthusiasm, and we assess that by analyzing how someone speaks about their law school and extracurricular experiences. If they convey true enthusiasm for going the extra mile as opposed to merely checking a box, then that will make an impression on us.
CA:What questions do you ask in interviews?
KM: Following on from what Nick said, one of the first questions I typically ask is: 'Tell me about a project you've worked on over the summer?' They could tell me about their experience clerking for a judge and analyzing a question of law, or their time at a law firm when they contributed to a transaction. I think their explanations are very telling; getting a feeling for how they approached their summer position gives you bit of insight into how they would approach their job. Can they talk about it effectively? Are they enthusiastic when they talk about what they learned? It doesn’t matter where that summer position was – I’m just trying to understand whether or not they embraced the job, and whether or not they are articulate.
NG: I’ll sometimes ask students something along the lines of: ‘What do you have planned this fall?’ I ask ambiguous questions because I can learn a lot – they’ll maybe talk about classes, their extracurricular activities, something outside of school, or all three. I think it gives you insight into how complete someone is.
RC: Certainly lots of candidates know our reputation and our values, so I try to drill down on that in the interview. I'll ask candidates to give me examples of times when they’ve worked in teams – it helps you to get a sense of what people were thinking about and how they were behaving at the time.
NG: The conversation often turns to the practice area someone might be interested in; some try very hard to express an interest in a particular area. However, I’ve always found candidates to be genuine when they say: ‘I really have no idea. I enjoy law, problem-solving, new industries, and so forth, and one reason for choosing Simpson is the benefit of trying out different things over summer and beyond.’ The program is designed to allow people to try different practice areas; only after that experience do they choose their practice. I think some candidates are reluctant to say that because they feel it shows a lack of focus or understanding, but I actually think it’s an understandable, logical position. I always credit people who say it.
KM: One of the things I find a little tougher is when potential summers come in and haven’t really done any research on the firm. You can learn a lot of information on our website about the firm generally, and I would encourage people to do that for any interview they’re going to. Obviously we know a lot of potential summers are interviewing at a number of firms, but it’s tough to engage in an interview when it’s clear the summer doesn’t even really know what firm they're at – are they just going through the motions?
NG: I’m amazed at some of the questions I hear each recruiting season that show a complete lack of understanding of what we do. Once a candidate said: ‘Tell me about your election law practice.’ Well, we don’t have an election law practice. On the one hand I understand, because applicants have so many interviews it’s hard to keep them all straight and they’re trying hard, but they’re confusing things. I think it’s safer from the candidate’s perspective to ask questions that are meaningful to their experience. For example: ‘Tell me about a day in the life of a summer associate or transactional associate.’
Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP
425 Lexington Avenue,
- Head Office: New York, NY
- Number of domestic offices: 5
- Number of international offices: 6
- Worldwide revenue: $1,375,661,814
- Partners (US): 155
- Associates (US): 602
- Main recruitment contacts: Susan Osnato, Chief, Legal Recruiting & Professional Development; Michelle Las, Legal Recruiting Director
- Hiring partners: Rajib Chanda, Nick Goldin, Krista Miniutti
- Diversity officer: Natalia Martín, Director of Diversity
- Recruitment details
- Entry-level associates starting in 2018: 105
- Clerking policy: Yes
- Summers joining/anticipated 2018:
- 1Ls: 10, 2Ls: 98
- Summers joining/anticipated 2018 split by office:
- US: NY: 79, Palo Alto: 10, Houston: 8, Los Angeles: 4, Washington: 6
- UK: London: 1
- Summer salary 2018:
- 1Ls: $3,500
- 2Ls: $3,500
- 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
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.
Berkeley, Brooklyn, Cardozo, Chicago, Columbia, Cornell, Davis, Duke, Emory, Fordham, George Washington, Georgetown, Harvard, Howard, Michigan, NYU, Northwestern, Notre Dame, Pennsylvania, Santa Clara, St. John’s, Seton Hall, Stanford, Texas, 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, Notre Dame NY Interview Program, Patent Law Interview Program.
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 satisfying. Summer associates work on assignments from all practice areas side by side with partners and associates on client projects of substantial complexity. Summer associates participate in frequent formal training programs geared to their needs and are also invited to attend other firmwide training programs. Summer associates have partner and associate mentors and are given prompt and specific feedback. At the end of the summer program, summer associates will have a thorough understanding of the firm’s work and culture.
This Firm's Rankings in
Chambers USA Guide 2017
- Capital Markets: Debt & Equity (Band 1)
- Corporate/M&A: Private Equity (Band 1)
District of Columbia
- Antitrust Recognised Practitioner
- Antitrust (Band 3)
- Bankruptcy/Restructuring (Band 4)
- Corporate/M&A: The Elite (Band 1)
- Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation (Band 1)
- Environment: Mainly Transactional (Band 1)
- Insurance: Dispute Resolution: Insurer (Band 1)
- Latin American Investment (Band 2)
- Litigation: General Commercial: The Elite (Band 2)
- Litigation: Securities (Band 1)
- Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations (Band 3)
- Real Estate: Mainly Corporate & Finance (Band 1)
- Tax (Band 1)
- Technology & Outsourcing (Band 4)
- Corporate/M&A (Band 4)
- Banking & Finance (Band 2)
USA - Nationwide
- Antitrust (Band 4)
- Banking & Finance (Band 1)
- Capital Markets: Debt & Equity (Band 1)
- Capital Markets: Derivatives (Band 4)
- Capital Markets: High-Yield Products (Band 3)
- Corporate/M&A: The Elite (Band 1)
- Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation (Band 2)
- Energy: Electricity (Transactional) (Band 2)
- Financial Services Regulation: Financial Institutions M&A (Band 2)
- Insurance: Dispute Resolution: Insurer (Band 1)
- International Trade: CFIUS Experts (Band 3)
- Investment Funds: Private Equity: Fund Formation (Band 1)
- Investment Funds: Registered Funds Recognised Practitioner
- Private Equity: Buyouts (Band 1)
- Real Estate (Band 1)
- REITs Recognised Practitioner
- Securities: Litigation (Band 1)
- Tax: Corporate & Finance (Band 1)