Sullivan & Cromwell LLP - The Inside View

A Wall Street institution with a monstrous appetite for history-making deals and cases… an associate role at this Sully will certainly open doors for you.

We spoke to many “highly intelligent, yet relatable and grounded people” at Sullivan & Cromwell (that’s how these modest folks described themselves and their peers) – and all were in agreement that the firm has “a giant, alluring reputation.” With nearly 150 years of history behind it, S&C continues to rake in many (many) millions of dollars in revenue, tackling more headline cases and blockbuster mergers than your average person could keep up with. The fine folks at Chambers USA have certainly kept track and accordingly award the firm top nationwide rankings for elite M&A, derivatives, finance regulatory, projects, tax, and corporate crime and investigations. In its home state of New York, Sullivan wins top spots for corporate, litigation, employment, real estate and tax.

Whether it’s advising on Kraft’s epic $55 billion combo with Heinz or helping Volkswagen manage its emissions scandal, the firm has the capacity to handle mega matters of all flavors. Explaining that S&C subscribes to “the generalist model – the idea that you can get all different kinds of work” within a practice area, associates also suggested “all different types of personalities thrive here.” The common thread is “the flexibility to choose your own career path. Variety makes the day more interesting.”

“The flexibility to choose your own career path.”

We heard that Sullivan’s model allows for ‘flow’ and lets attorneys get great experience early on. “Even as summers we got to take hundreds of depositions for a giant class action,” a junior recalled. “We got to fly out, draft the outline, and second-chair it in our first week!” New York remains the firm’s largest US office by some distance, welcoming the bulk of newbies; DCLos Angeles and Palo Alto recruit on a smaller scale.

The Work



At the time of our research, most juniors were in either litigation or 'general practice' (effectively the corporate group); just a small handful joined tax or estates and personal practices. Tapping into the flexibility of Simone Biles, associates said ‘generalist’ is “the watchword of the hour. It’s completely true – the appeal of working here is you never know what you’re going to be doing next.” As well as “getting a taste of everything” in their practice groups, associates got “no backlash” for expressing a wish to change groups entirely. A central assignment system gives juniors their first matters to “hit the ground running.” After that, they can start getting work informally from senior associates and partners: “It’s good to have a central system as a backup. If you have free time, they will absolutely fill it!”

“On ‘the world is ending’ matters, the price tag for the client is high.”

The breadth of S&C’s litigation group means “associates get exposure to a wide range of case types – the firm actively encourages everyone to try new things.” Interviewees had sampled multibillion-dollar civil litigation, arbitration, federal and state-level regulatory investigations, criminal proceedings and much more. Still not enough for you? The group also handles antitrust including merger clearance and merger fallout disputes. Insiders told us working on the gigantic cases can be advantageous as “on ‘the world is ending’ matters, the price tag for the client is high. They’re willing to pay for a lot of attorneys, which means juniors get to take on a lot of client contact on those.” While smaller “cost-conscious” matters offer less client interaction (“they don’t want juniors joining calls and running up the bill,”) they can offer “a bigger-picture view that’s easier to lose sight of on a huge case.”

Juniors in litigation typically handle research, drafting responses, statements and presentations. They also get their fair share of trial exposure and help second-chair depositions from early on. “I’m not going to lie, I have done my fair share of doc review,” one admitted. They and others found the discovery process rather engaging, “drafting chronology and talking to the client’s discovery team before running search terms.” Young litigators felt “real ownership over particular segments of matters.”

Litigation clients: Volkswagen, Goldman Sachs, Barclays. Won dismissal of multidistrict antitrust claims brought by consumers and car dealers against major German automotive manufacturers.

M&A, capital markets, banking, IP, real estate, financial regulation, restructuring, and employee benefits & executive compensation all come through the ‘general practice’ corporate team. Juniors tend to remain generalists for their first 18 months, though “given the pandemic, the firm’s signed us up to groups temporarily so we’re not floating around while working remotely.” Sullivan & Cromwell also “advises funds that invest in securities and commodities like blockchain currency. It’s advice about compliance and what you can invest in.”

“Very interesting as a first-year – you get to see how they do it elsewhere.”

The IP subgroup is “relatively young” in S&C terms and has quadrupled the number of juniors it takes on in recent years. This team advises on IP elements of acquisitions “including privacy policies, software, copyright, trademarks and patents – it’s fun, niche work.” Juniors in this fun niche typically draft resolutions and “very simple contract documents,” as well as getting heavily involved in process and client management. Reviewing drafts from the other side proved “very interesting as a first-year – you get to see how they do it elsewhere.”

Corporate clients: Morgan Stanley, eBay, Grubhub. Advised Philips in its $2.7 billion acquisition of remote cardiac diagnostics and monitoring provider BioTelemetry.

Strategy & Future



You might expect a firm as long in the tooth as Sullivan to be on the traditionalist side. Associates agreed to an extent: “I don’t think it’s culturally old-fashioned as much as it is small-c conservative,” one said. “The firm has been around a long time, so changes come very deliberately and slowly.” Hedging their bets paid off massively in the 2008 financial crisis, where the firm made no associate layoffs, “which has now been repeated in the COVID-19 crisis. It makes me comfortable knowing we’re a stable institution with lots of job security.” Associates were also quick to point out that despite being “cautious and risk-averse,” the firm is keen to invest in “innovative industries, such as commodities and futures; and in alternative energy, as demonstrated by our growing wind energy practice.”

Hours & Compensation



Billable hours: no requirement 

Bonuses and salaries at Sullivan & Cromwell are lockstep, with everyone getting the same regardless of hours. Nobody we spoke to kicked up a fuss about this: a higher biller told us they “don’t actually mind. I choose to work this much and I’m learning more than others.” Another explained: “Not having a billable requirement is so comforting that I don’t care about the numbers. I genuinely enjoy my job, so I am looking for chances to grow and learn, not to make an extra thousand bucks.” Very admirable.

“The focus seems to be on doing excellent work, not just getting the hours.”

Insiders pinpointed the average junior associate hours at around 1,800 each year, though confusingly enough, everyone we spoke to had billed 2,000 to 2,400. “There’s no real typical work day,” one said. “Some days I’m in 6am until 2am, others I might be clocking out at 5pm.” Many told us an average month called for 200 billable hours. Because of the lack of billable target, senior attorneys “don’t notice your hours,” which juniors were very happy about. “The lack of a billable hour requirement makes a large difference to me in terms of the firm’s culture overall. The focus seems to be on doing excellent work, not just getting the hours, and it really builds a sense of ownership.” Others agreed that the lack of a target means “the firm isn’t trying to squeeze associates. They don’t want to burn everybody out, longevity is on their minds.”

Culture



What struck me about the firm when I first got here was the funkiness, the uniqueness of the people,” a junior told us. That’s perhaps a politer way of saying ‘nerdy’ – we’ve heard Sullivanites tend to be more “bookish” than peers at other large New York firms. “It’s good for someone who is a more self-motivated individual,” another suggested. “We’re not overly social.” While not anti-social – the firm does run happy hours and other events – it’s fair to say “the social aspect is not the driving force here.” Juniors also reckoned “this will never be a firm that redesigns the office so everyone sits in pods with glass walls, but there’s still a good sense of camaraderie.” That said, many felt the ideal personality type here was “someone who appreciates being part of a team and a community. It’s open-door without the hand-holding.”

“It’s good for someone who is a more self-motivated individual.”

Our interviewees sought to reassure potential applicants who might find Sullivan intimidating: “This is a large multinational firm but with the culture of a small office. You get to know loads of people and have close interactions with partners.” Smaller offices like Los Angeles and DC take this even further and “you really get to know everybody. It feels like our own little suburb: we hold monthly birthday gatherings with cake with all the attorneys and support staff.” Sources outside the HQ enjoyed a “personalized experience you just couldn’t do in New York.” Across the US offices, juniors were still working from home during our research. Trips to the office were “optional, it’s mostly partners coming back in,” though some corporate groups were actively encouraging office returns.

Career Development



After an intense bout of training when they first join, juniors hungry for learning can tap into “a lunch session available pretty much every day.” Interviewees described them as “extremely helpful and very interesting tutorials on different areas of the law, prominent legal issues and commercial awareness.” One recent session covered “an AI discovery tool called Brainspace. It was super helpful to help explain to clients why it’s useful for fact discovery.”

Many juniors felt “informal comments you get in work feedback” can be the most helpful training of all. Those we spoke to unanimously felt “supported by the firm. They make efforts to ensure people are satisfied with what they’re doing and have a clear path to where they want to go.” Sullivan & Cromwell has a dedicated careers office, which the firm “encourages associates to use and discuss career paths whether they lead further into or out of the firm.” Associates also get advisers and mentors “who can help you navigate that journey.” It’s “very common” for trial lawyers to clerk in their first or second year, and some continue their legal journey into public law. “I feel I’ve got a great start to my career and great training for no matter where I end up,” one insider concluded, “but I’m in no rush to leave, that’s for sure.”

Diversity & Inclusion



Sullivan & Cromwell runs “firmwide discussions on diversity topics and there’s a high level of commitment from leadership. The heads of the firm really seem to care.” Have their results been successful? “Things are getting better,” interviewees sighed. “It’s not a triumph yet – we’ve not got it totally solved, but we’re making progress.” Affinity groups have set in motion “a bunch of efforts” to increase inclusion, from advising on hiring and promotion practices to an associate ‘experience committee’. They also host various activities and events that “aim to build camaraderie and tackle any issues. The firm genuinely listens to them.”

“…a high level of commitment from leadership. The heads of the firm really seem to care.”

Hiring efforts seem to be slowly paying off too: “I’ve noticed the younger classes are more and more diverse than the older ones.” Our junior interviewees told us their colleagues are “respectful, culturally sensitive and welcoming of all people. It doesn’t matter about your background or where you’re from, we’re all given equal opportunities – that was actually a big reason for me choosing the firm!”

Pro Bono



As pro bono hours count toward billables with no cap, S&C juniors rated the firm “incredibly supportive” of pro bono efforts. Partners are “very vocal” about their support, sending praise and highlights out in weekly updates – “and it feels good to get an ‘awesome job’ message.” The firm maintains partnerships with organizations like the Transgender Legal Defense Fund and the Clooney Foundation – Amal Clooney is an alumna of the firm! Sullivan attorneys have helped with the “unique work” of conducting independent analysis of headline trials for fairness and transparency. Interviewees also described work on criminal appeals, acting to reduce or dismiss people’s sentences and helping victims of domestic violence win restraining orders. Juniors found pro bono “a great way to get court time and take the lead on case strategy.”

Pro bono hours

  • For all attorneys across all US offices: 41,847
  • Average per US attorney: 66

Get Hired



The first stage: recruitment on and off campus

OCI applicants interviewed: undisclosed

Interviewees outside OCI:  undisclosed

Sullivan & Cromwell's recruiters visit roughly 25 to 30 law schools and participate in several job fairs. 

The interviews themselves are usually conducted by a partner and an associate (often from different practice groups). At this stage, interviewers want to learn about candidates’ interests and what experiences they are after; how they analyze issues; and how they would work in a collaborative environment. Generally, interviewers will ask for more info on an interesting work experience, or even a hobby that is listed on a candidate's resume. Hiring partner Sergio Galvis says that “sometimes more informal conversation is a great way to learn about someone and what matters most to them.” 

Top tips for this stage:

“Your best bet is to be yourself throughout the interview process and engage in authentic discussions about your interests – professional and otherwise. Chances are there is someone at S&C who is interested in those very same things.” – hiring partner Sergio Galvis.

Callbacks

Applicants invited to second-stage interviews: undisclosed

S&C conducts fewer callbacks than many firms. This is, in part, to “provide a highly personalized, in-office interview experience that focuses on the interests and professional goals of each candidate.” The firm tries to pair interviewees with interviewers who practice in areas of interest to the candidate. Galvis explains that “our conversations with candidates are wide-ranging and could touch upon any number of topics. We don’t like to be too formulaic because that’s not how we operate.” The ideal scenario, Galvis reflects, occurs when “the callback process feels less like an interview and more like a meaningful conversation between people who have similar professional interests.”

Top tips for this stage:

“Do your best to familiarize yourself with S&C, our practice, and the work we do. It’s important to give some thought to the generalist, multi-disciplinary approach and whether this appeals to you as it is central to the way we develop lawyers at the firm.” hiring partner, Sergio Galvis.

Summer program

Offers: undisclosed

Acceptances: undisclosed

“We’re very focused on getting our summers engaged in the work of the firm," says Galvis. "We see no reason to wait until they become regular associates.” We heard that some summers use the time to experiment and explore different practices, while others come in knowing what they want to do and can seek out that type of work. A large majority of summers return to the firm after graduation (or after a clerkship), and at that point, students can select a practice area to join. But it’s not all work and no play – the firm puts on a “robust” list of social events as well.

Top tips for this stage:

“I wouldn’t worry about trying to impress people and instead would focus on taking advantage of the opportunities a summer at S&C will present to you. Attend trainings, participate in practice group lunches, dive into the work, get to know your summer cohort and enjoy your time at the firm.” – hiring partner, Sergio Galvis.

 

Sullivan & Cromwell LLP

125 Broad Street,
New York,
NY 10004-2498
Website www.sullcrom.com

  • Head Office: New York, NY
  • Number of domestic offices: 4
  • Number of international offices: 9
  • Partners (US): 133
  • Associates (US): 481
  • Contacts  
  • Main recruitment contact: Milana L Hogan, Chief Legal Talent Officer
  • Hiring partner: Sergio J Galvis
  • Diversity officers: David Braff and Tracy Richelle High, Partners, Co-Chairs of the Diversity Committee
  • Recruitment details  
  • Entry-level associates starting in 2021: 96
  • Clerking policy: Yes
  • Summers joining/anticipated 2021: 1Ls: 5, 2Ls: 124, 3Ls: 2 SEOs: 2 (anticipated)
  • Summer salary 2021: 1Ls: $190,000
  • pro-rated 2Ls: $190,000 pro-rated
  • Split summers offered? Yes
  • Can summers spend time in an overseas office? Yes

Main areas of work



 Sullivan & Cromwell brings a multidisciplinary approach to providing the fullest and most comprehensive legal advice to our clients. Our global practice includes four main groups: general practice (corporate), litigation, tax and estates and personal. Our lawyers are trained to be generalists through broad exposure to a wide range of challenging legal matters, many of which have a significant cross-border component. A substantial number of S&C’s clients are non-US commercial enterprises and government entities and many of our US clients retain us for international matters. Our lawyers serve our clients through a network of 13 offices in New York, Washington, DC, Los Angeles, Palo Alto, London, Paris, Frankfurt, Brussels, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Beijing, Melbourne and Sydney.

Firm profile



 S&C has the most broadly and deeply trained collection of lawyers in the world. They thrive in our working environment, which is characterized by commitment to clients, leadership, professional development, broad experience, teamwork and commitment to community. Associates at S&C typically acquire leadership skills as lawyers more quickly than they would at other law firms, as they are given early responsibility for managing transactions, counseling clients and representing their interests in dealings with other parties. To supplement this on-the-job experience, we provide comprehensive training programs for associates as well as formal mentoring programs.

Recruitment



Law schools attending for OCIs in 2021:
S&C interviews at top law schools around the country. Our lawyers are alumni of more than 135 law schools.

Recruitment outside OCIs:
Hiring for Sullivan & Cromwell’s US offices is handled by each individual office. Hiring for S&C’s Asia and Australia offices, and of US-trained applicants to our European offices, is coordinated out of the New York office. Please send an application package consisting of a cover letter, resume and transcript to the appropriate office:
• New York, Europe, Asia, Australia: legalrecruiting@sullcrom.com
• Los Angeles: saldanamc@sullcrom.com
• Palo Alto: vonhaasej@sullcrom.com
• Washington, DC: rochek@sullcrom.com

Summer associate profile:
We are actively seeking people whose intellect, character, motivation and other attributes promise to make them outstanding lawyers.

Summer program components:
Training/Orientation:
All summer associates participate in a formal orientation program, as well as a wide variety of training programs and skills workshops.
Advising/Assigning/Evaluations:
Summer associates are assigned a partner advisor and an associate advisor, from whom they receive assignments. They are also matched with a junior associate, who is there to help with day-to-day matters at the firm. In addition, each summer associate is assigned to an associate development partner, who oversees the distribution of summer associate assignments.
Events: Every summer, S&C organizes a variety of events, including professional opportunities, social activities and charitable events.

Social media



Recruitment website: careers.sullcrom.com
Twitter: @sullcrom

This Firm's Rankings in
USA Guide, 2021

Ranked Departments

    • Capital Markets: Debt & Equity (Band 2)
    • Litigation: General Commercial: The Elite (Band 4)
    • Litigation: Securities (Band 4)
    • Corporate/M&A: The Elite (Band 2)
    • Antitrust (Band 5)
    • Antitrust (Band 2)
    • Banking & Finance (Band 4)
    • 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: Transactional & Regulatory (Band 3)
    • Labor & Employment: Highly Regarded (Band 1)
    • Litigation: General Commercial: The Elite (Band 1)
    • Litigation: Securities (Band 1)
    • Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations: The Elite (Band 1)
    • Real Estate: Mainly Corporate & Finance (Band 1)
    • Tax (Band 1)
    • Antitrust (Band 3)
    • Banking & Finance (Band 4)
    • Bankruptcy/Restructuring: The Elite (Band 4)
    • Capital Markets: Equity: Manager Counsel (Band 2)
    • Capital Markets: High-Yield Debt (Band 4)
    • Capital Markets: Investment Grade Debt: Issuer Counsel (Band 2)
    • Capital Markets: Investment Grade Debt: Manager Counsel (Band 2)
    • Corporate Crime & Investigations: The Elite (Band 1)
    • Corporate/M&A: The Elite (Band 1)
    • Derivatives (Band 1)
    • Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation (Band 2)
    • Energy: Electricity (Transactional) (Band 3)
    • Energy: Mining & Metals (Transactional) (Band 1)
    • Environment: Mainly Transactional (Band 2)
    • FCPA (Band 5)
    • Financial Services Regulation: Banking (Compliance) (Band 1)
    • Financial Services Regulation: Banking (Enforcement & Investigations) (Band 1)
    • Financial Services Regulation: Financial Institutions M&A (Band 1)
    • Insurance: Transactional & Regulatory (Band 3)
    • Product Liability: Automobile Spotlight Table
    • Product Liability: Consumer Class Actions (Band 2)
    • Projects: LNG (Band 1)
    • Projects: Mining & Metals (Band 1)
    • Projects: Oil & Gas (Band 3)
    • Real Estate (Band 2)
    • Registered Funds (Band 4)
    • REITs (Band 4)
    • Securities: Litigation (Band 1)
    • Securities: Regulation: Enforcement (Band 3)
    • Tax: Corporate & Finance (Band 1)

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