After opening its doors to over 750 lawyers and staff from global firm Bingham McCutchen, this already sizable Philadelphian has just got a whole lot bigger.
EVEN before it took on the vast majority of Bingham McCutchen's cohort of lawyers, Morgan Lewis was a legal force to be reckoned with. Prior to the headline-grabbing development, this Philly native had nearly 1,300 attorneys spread across 16 domestic offices and nine overseas outposts, with a mouthwatering client base comprising household names like American Airlines, Colgate Palmolive and Toys R Us. Still, none could deny that the arrival of the Bingham brigade has significantly boosted Morgan Lewis' operations: on top of increasing its presence in cities such as Boston, New York, San Francisco and DC, the move has granted the firm new offices in Santa Monica, California and Hartford. In April 2015, the firm announced another acquisition – this time, an 80-lawyer firm in Singapore, Stamford Law Corp.
The firm's full-service capabilities are best summed up by its hefty batch of first-class Chambers USA rankings, belonging to areas like labor & employment, general commercial litigation, corporate/M&A, energy and antitrust.
Litigation is the most popular destination for entry-level associates. Attorneys in this department handle issues spanning areas such as product liability, securities, white-collar crime and environmental law. Clients are similarly varied: they include big-name financial institutions (JPMorgan Chase), giant tech corps (Hewlett-Packard), well-known automotive companies (Toyota) and, in Philadelphia especially, major pharmaceutical businesses (Pfizer). Juniors are encouraged to make the most of this breadth of expertise. “Obviously there's a demand component to consider, but for the most part you can pursue whatever you want to.” For those with a clearer idea of the direction they want to head in, “you are able to naturally specialize.”
Labor & employment is an area the firm excels in, as evidenced by its top-tier nationwide ranking in Chambers USA. The team “almost exclusively represents employers” and draws in business from over 100 of the Fortune 500 companies, including Citi, Comcast and Cigna. “We mostly do class action and single plaintiff work,” juniors explained. The former involves wage and hours disputes, such as “people claiming they weren't provided proper meal or rest breaks, or didn't receive overtime pay.” On the plaintiff side, “there are a lot of discrimination claims” in particular. “I got thrown into things very quickly,” a second-year recalled. “Straight away, I was drafting motions, preparing discoveries and having a prominent role in case strategy.” What's more, “there isn't much doc review because of the nature of the practice.” Result. Other departments include tax, IP and investment management.
“I got thrown into things very quickly.”
The recently separated corporate & business transactions group and finance group (both of which have sub-practices) take a lot of juniors. “I feel like I've had a little bit of experience in everything,” a corporate-based source divulged, “whether that be securities matters, finance-related work or M&A deals.” Meanwhile, transaction values “can be anything from a few million dollars up to several billion – they really run the gamut.” Even on the larger offerings, “our deal teams are usually staffed on the leaner side, so you get ample responsibility right away – albeit with oversight from the senior associates and partners.” Associates often start off with “typical” tasks like “keeping track of documents and checklists,” before tackling meatier assignments like drafting agreements and “being the actual mouthpiece for due diligence matters.”
Most groups have an assigning partner in charge of dishing out work, but juniors tend to rely less on this system over time, depending on the department. “If you don't dictate your own career path then you risk only getting assigned whatever comes down the pipe, so seeking out work from different partners is important.”
Training & Development
Training is primarily in the hands of each practice group, though there is a firmwide training program on broader skills like communications and writing. Corporate associates get a regular helping of lunchtime sessions, particularly in the first year; these cover topics like public and private M&A, securities offerings, and how to conduct due diligence. Junior litigators attend training “around once a month” and these are centered on “procedural” areas, from “writing briefs and preparing motions” to “taking depositions,” while those in the labor & employment group reported bimonthly sessions surrounding “the hottest developments in the law.” Most of all training sessions are transmitted firmwide via video conference, so that associates across all the offices can tune into the ones relevant to them.
“They've really taken an active interest.”
Mentoring is also taken seriously here. Every junior gets a partner and associate (or 'buddy') mentor, whose level of involvement is “down to the luck of the draw,” according to one insider. “My partner mentor has been great with my professional development – they've really taken an active interest.”
Many of the juniors we spoke to had found that, while there is “quite a lot of cross-office collaboration,” factors like location and practice group largely determine how much they mingle with the rest of the Morgan Lewis family. As an example, we heard the firm's California-based offices “operate seamlessly,” whereas a litigator in Philadelphia revealed they “haven't really needed to contact lawyers from the other offices.” The important point to make here is that reaching out to someone elsewhere “is incredibly easy to do. It's certainly an integrated network.”
“Quite a lot of cross-office collaboration.”
Most of the offices have wide-ranging practices, but there are specialisms to watch out for. New York is “probably best known for labor and employment,” Philadelphia is “a hub for pharmaceutical activity” and “definitely forms a large chunk of what we do,” and the San Francisco cohort has seen an upturn in securities and banking litigation work since the influx of Bingham lawyers.
Culture and Strategy
Morgan Lewis “isn't a lifestyle firm” and “the work can be tough. We operate in a highly competitive market, so it's imperative that we deliver excellence every time.” But even with the stack of demands that come with life in BigLaw, the firm has managed to maintain an upbeat working environment devoid of mean personalities. “People here are very respectful; you're encouraged to be nice to other people, which isn't always the case at other firms,” a respondent mused. “I've never been yelled at and everyone is treated well – from the partners all the way down to the secretaries and support staff.” Some sensed that the firm's Philadelphia roots play a part: “It's not like we chat about cheesesteaks and the Liberty Bell at every meeting, but our culture is definitely different from that of a New York firm.”
“We trust that management knows what it's doing.”
The late 2014 arrival of 750-plus people from Bingham McCutchen turned plenty of heads in the legal press at the time. But how has this impacted the day-to-day lives of Morgan Lewis' attorneys? There's been little change in the Philly HQ, seeing as “Bingham didn't have a presence here,” but in the likes of Boston, DC, San Francisco and New York, the integration wrinkles were still being ironed out at the time of our calls. “Our litigation group here is almost doubling in size, so I guess we're entering a period of slight uncertainty and instability,” a San Fran associate noted. “The firm is doing its best to integrate everyone, however, and not make it an 'us and them' scenario.” Elsewhere, legacy Bingham lawyers in New York are “still working out of their old office,” but “the plan is to try and combine everyone under one roof in the next year or two.”
Still, none of the juniors we interviewed had any lingering fears about the firm's future, mainly because of its “financially conservative” strategy. “We know that when we make a move of such an unprecedented size and scale like this, it's been done with a great deal of thought and preparation. It gives us confidence that they wouldn't have done it without being absolutely sure it would work out; we trust that management knows what it's doing.” Ultimately, the move has been met with considerable excitement. “We have had to adjust a bit as a result – we've lost some clients because of conflicts of interest and a few partners have left too – but it has generated a lot of buzz overall. The strengthening of some of our existing groups means more opportunities for us to cross-sell our capabilities to clients.”
Hours & Compensation
Morgan Lewis' official line is that there's no billing requirement for juniors, but all our sources were in agreement that 2,000 hours is the amount to aim for. “I've never had trouble reaching that target,” a litigation associate remarked. “Our group is always busy, so there's plenty of work to go around.” Juniors in the other groups said the same. This can inevitably lead to long, grueling working days, though bear in mind that juniors can influence their own hours based on “how willing you are to turn stuff down.” Crucially, the firm takes a lenient stance toward attorneys working remotely or reducing their schedules if need be.
“Recognized for your good work.”
It's worth noting that there is some monetary weight attached to the 2,000-hour mark, at least in the Pennsylvania offices. Associates in the Keystone State become eligible for a “standard” bonus once they've clocked up 2,000 hours; in addition to this, there's a merit-based bonus that takes into account “the quality of your work, firm citizenship and pro bono,” among other factors. “One reason for the discretionary element is that, through no fault of your own, you might bill below 2,000 hours,” an insider remarked. “It's a way of making sure you're still recognized for your good work.” The offices outside Pennsylvania have a purely discretionary bonus.
Morgan Lewis sets out a “challenge” for its attorneys to complete at least 20 hours of pro bono each year – and “a lot of us end up doing much more than that.” One of the reasons why many go beyond the minimum expectation is because the firm has no cap on the number of pro bono hours that can be counted toward the billable total. “I've never had someone tell me I'm doing too much,” a source confirmed. “Our old chair was big on pro bono, and our new chair [Jami Wintz McKeon] has retained that mantra.”
“I've never had someone tell me I'm doing too much.”
Each office has its own set of pro bono matters and local organizations it collaborates with. Juniors in Philly said their office has strong ties with Philadelphia VIP – a “nonprofit organization that helps out low-income individuals with a whole hodgepodge of issues” – while New Yorkers rub shoulders with civil rights firm New York Lawyers for the Public Interest and several local law clinics.
Pro bono hours
Some associates thought that Morgan Lewis' diversity stats “probably hold up well compared to other firms,” which is a fair statement based on our own findings. The firm has a higher percentage of female partners (22%) than the BigLaw average, while its percentages of ethnic minority (7%) and LGBT (2%) partners are pretty much on a par. What's more notable is the number of women in leadership positions - they include new chair Jami Wintz McKeon and half of the DC, Boston and San Francisco offices' management teams. On the other hand, one respondent felt “there's a real lack of racial diversity within our leadership ranks.”
In any case, the firm is continuing to address the issue: “There's someone here who's recently become our diversity leader – for lack of a better term – and their main function is to foster diversity within the firm.” Such efforts include hosting lunches, presentations and webinars on relevant topics.
“We probably hold up well compared to other firms.”
According to one interviewee, “Morgan Lewis isn't as picky as some firms when it comes to what law school you attended. It's more about how well you did there and how involved you were; showing you could handle your academic workload along with extracurricular commitments is a big deal.” That said, another described the firm's recruiting strategy in Philadelphia as “stale. We continue to visit the same schools every year – it's all based on historical relationships between some partners and institutions. I would like to see them broaden their recruitment scope.” The firm points out that this is because it has been successful at these schools, although it does re-evaluate every year.
For places like Philly and San Fran, local ties can play their part –“it shows you're not just using us as a safety net if you don't get into a New York or DC firm” – while prior work experience, “or at least an understanding of how businesses function,” can also prove valuable.
From Bingham to Morgan Lewis: a timeline of events
The deal that sealed the move of over 750 lawyers from Bingham McCutchen to Morgan Lewis was preceded by months of twists and turns. Below is a useful timeline of the events that unfolded up to the deal's finalization in November 2014.
Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP
1701 Market Street,
- Head Office: Philadelphia, PA
- Number of domestic offices: 18
- Number of international offices: 11
- Partners (US): 638
- Associates (US): 887
- Summer Salary 2015
- 1Ls: $2,900-$3,080/week
- 2Ls: $2,900-$3,080/week
- 1Ls hired? Case by case
- Split summers offered? Case by case
- Can summers spend time in overseas office? No
- Summers 2015: 57
- Offers/acceptances 2014: 52 offers, 41 acceptances
Main areas of work
At Morgan Lewis, we work around the world and around the clock to respond to the needs of our clients. We provide comprehensive corporate, transactional, litigation and regulatory services that address and anticipate challenges across rapidly changing landscapes. Our international team of lawyers and other specialists support clients across a wide range of industries, including financial services, energy and environmental, healthcare and life sciences, retail and technology.
From our 29 offices in the United States, Europe, Asia and the Middle East, we work across all major industries with clients that range from established, global Fortune 100 companies to enterprising startups. Our team comprises more than 2,000 legal professionals including lawyers, patent agents, employee benefits advisors, regulatory scientists and other specialists. We focus on immediate concerns and long-term goals, harnessing our resources from strategic hubs of commerce, law and government around the world. Founded in 1873, we stand on the shoulders of more than 140 years of excellence.
Number of 1st year associates: 78
Number of 2nd year associates: 97
Associate salaries: 1st year: $145,000 - $160,000
2nd year: $150,000 - $170,000
Clerking policy: Yes
Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2015:
BC, Berkeley, BU, Chicago, Columbia, Cornell, Davis, Duke, Florida, Fordham, GW, Georgetown, Harvard, Hastings, Houston, Howard, Illinois, Miami, Michigan, NYU, Northwestern, Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh, Rutgers, Santa Clara, Stanford, Southern Methodist, Temple, Texas, UC Irvine, UCLA, USC, USF, UVA, Villanova
Summer associate profile:
Highly motivated individuals from diverse backgrounds who have a record of outstanding academic achievement, as well as superior writing and analytical skills, a commitment to client service, initiative and an ability to succeed in a challenging, collaborative workplace.
Summer program components:
Our program provides insight into Morgan Lewis, its practices and culture through professional and social experiences. The summer program launches with a multiday kickoff that brings summer associates from all offices together with firm leaders, other partners and associates. Summer associates have the unique opportunity to tailor their “ML Summer Experience” with the option of either spending the entire summer at the firm or spending a portion of the summer working on-site with a firm client or with a public interest organization. The client experience facilitates professional development by providing a deeper understanding of the operations and issues handled by in-house legal departments. While at the firm, summer associates work on matters typically assigned to first-year associates and participate in a generous mix of training opportunities to hone skills such as legal writing and presentation style.