Associates take the reins and steer their own career at this renowned DC thoroughbred.
AMONG the handful of firms who could claim to be king of K Street, Wiley Rein is a strong contender for the crown. Founder partner Dick Wiley is a communications industry heavyweight with a stint as chairman of the FCC under his belt and an Emmy to his name, awarded for his role in helping to create HDTV. In the past few years, cofounder Bert Rein has appeared in two much talked-about Supreme Court cases: he's helped Shelby County, Alabama, to challenge the 1965 Voting Rights Act and has been representing a white student who claimed that the University of Texas at Austin used affirmative action admission policies to discriminate against her.
Associates were delighted that “the name partners are still active and practicing. I see them on a regular basis in the elevator and halls. The fact that this is our only office means that big decisions are made by people down the corridor, rather than an anonymous management committee that's spread across the globe. The structure of the firm makes it feel like a comfortable place rather than a faceless corporation. I don't want to say it's like a family because that sounds cheesy! But it is tight-knit.” The single-office setup also “makes it easier for associates to have a voice. Everyone knows somebody on the associates' committee.”
"Easier for associates to have a voice."
Naturally, juniors were also drawn to the firm's “expertise and strong practices” – evidence of which is apparent in the firm's top-tier Chambers USA rankings for government contracts, insurance and telecoms work. The latter department has stacks of well-known clients, including AT&T, Verizon and Samsung, while the insurance group works for industry big-hitters like Chubb and XL Catlin.
With around 250 attorneys in total operating under one roof, Wiley Rein's annual intake of new talent is pretty petite. At the time of our calls, there were four to five juniors in the insurance, government contracts and telecoms, media & technology (TMT) groups, with the odd attorney cropping up in the international trade, IP, election law, litigation and environmental departments.
In the communications and government contracts groups, there's a free-market system for getting work (“it's up to you to fill your docket”) although rest assured that “when you first start they have a few assignments for you.” Overall, “you get into the swing of things after a few months. Partners call you up and give you assignments and you end up working with some more than others.” The insurance group, meanwhile, is “unique” in having an assigning partner who “helps you to navigate the free-market system. If you think you're getting slow and need more work, or if you're interested in a type of work you haven't been able to experience before, then he'll try to help you with that.”
"Partners call you up and give you assignments."
In government contracts, “there are always bid protests floating around and appeals that go before the Armed Services Board or the Contract Board of Appeals. For my first six months I did a lot of research and writing for bid protests.” One source announced that “I worked on a large internal investigation which was really fun. An employee had reported some mischarging on a government contract and I got to travel to interview all the people involved.” In addition, juniors might find themselves “managing a massive document review and collection – it's been a little scary at times but it's given me a lot of responsibility. I'm on the front line answering calls, dealing with the discovery vendor and making decisions as to whether to elevate certain issues to partner level.” Daily life in the department also involves “a lot of different variations of counseling and compliance work for clients who then two weeks later might find they have a protest to make."
An insurance associate handily explained what the group does: “It's nothing to do with car insurance or personal injury or health insurance. We counsel insurance companies that insure large companies. For instance, if Microsoft gets sued, which it does every day, it has insurance for that.” Typically, “we do a lot of initial advising and counseling on whether claims that come in are covered under policies.” Juniors get stuck into “coverage analysis, typically for professional liability insurance. I decide if there's coverage, what issues might come up, and then draft the analysis for partners to review.” When it comes to litigation, sources described “writing briefs, filing motions and getting lots of client contact – the partners I work with really encourage me to get on calls and e-mail clients directly.” Apparently, there isn't much doc review to get through, though one remarked brightly: “I actually like doc review – it's kinda mindless!”
"It's been a little scary at times."
TMT's capacious client list includes investment firms, technology companies, broadcasters, manufacturers and satellite companies. The associates we heard from had been dishing out regulatory compliance advice as well as taking a role in “administrative law-focused litigation, involving federal regulatory agencies like the FCC.” A proud source declared that “the partners handle the majority of communications, but I sometimes talk to the FCC directly, which is pretty great for my level. I also got the first pen on an appellate brief!”
Training & Development
Sources seemed pleased with the support they'd received from partners. Outside of the annual formal evaluation, “some partners get very enthusiastic about working with new attorneys and they'll sit down and go through what you did well and what you can improve on. It can be more difficult to get feedback from others. But you can learn what they like by looking at red lines on documents.” One suggested that “senior associates are a little more cognizant that juniors really want feedback to know where they stand.” Juniors also get matched up with mentors who tend to be “available to answer questions or proof-read things to tell you if you're on the right path.”
"They get you up to speed."
In addition to standard orientation sessions (“they get you up to speed on how to work in an office environment”), new recruits have weekly practice-specific trainings. “I probably had about 30 to 40 hours of training,” recalled one approvingly.
In previous years we'd heard reports that the office was a bit behind the times in terms of décor. Apparently, “there hasn't been a major renovation in a while,” but sources did tell us that “a bunch of conference rooms and kitchens have been upgraded and there are now marble tiles in the lobby.” One professed that “it's not particularly lavish, but it gets the job done,” while another pointed out that “at a lot of other firms there's a trend for glass doors, which is awkward because everyone can see inside your office. It's nice that we have privacy here.”
"Not particularly lavish, but it gets the job done."
Hours & Compensation
Until recently there was a two-track system for billing targets – 1,800 hours and 1,950 – and a corresponding pay scale. When we interviewed associates, several grumbled that “it created an unnecessary level of stress.” Although some thought that “the 1,800 target relieved some pressure for first-years, especially when there's training that prevents you from billing hours,” another declared that “it created a false expectation that staying on the lower track won't impact your career in the long run.” Happily for associates, the firm has replaced this old dual system with a straightforward annual billable target of 1,950 hours. Bonuses are usually slightly below market.
“The 1,800 target relieved some pressure for first-years."
Most associates reported that they'll be toiling for an average of ten hours a day in the office, although obviously “it ebbs and flows.” Sources were upbeat about the whole business of work/life balance. “As lawyers we work a lot, but I do get to go out on weekends, I still have all my passions and hobbies and I hang out with my husband quite a bit.”
Since we conducted interviews the firm raised its first and second year salaries to $180,000 and $190,000 respectively.
“I would say that the firm is kind of like a smart and dorky but lovable younger brother,” chuckled an associate. “We do really great work and there are a lot of brilliant people here from the best schools with the highest GPAs, but it's quite laid back, in that nobody makes you go out to bars for five hours after you've worked for 20 hours straight or anything like that. It's family-oriented, not a party firm.”
"Nobody makes you go out to bars for five hours after you've worked for 20 hours straight."
What about political affinities? Associates told us that election law groups can only work for one side and at Wiley it's Republican, so we were keen to find out if pro-conservatism permeates the entire firm. Associates thought not. “We're not defined by the election law group, which is a practice where you have to pick a side and stick to it. In day-to-day life that doesn't come through very much. There are as many members of the Constitution Society here as there are members of the Federalist Society.” One source admitted that “I struggled with coming here because of what I perceived as the firm's conservative stance in the election group. But it's not a problem at all, nobody tries to push that in your face and the firm is very supportive of diversity.”
Diversity & Pro Bono
“The firm works hard at increasing diversity,” agreed sources. There are affinity groups, including a women's forum, and a pipeline scheme for diverse 1Ls. That said, associates weren't feeling complacent about the issue. “The numbers are balancing out in terms of gender at associate level, but in terms of ethnic minority and LGBT lawyers there's a lot more to be done. And of course the partnership is still dominated by white males.”
When it comes to pro bono, associates can count 50 hours toward the billing target. All of our interviewees had taken on projects, including disability issues, child custody and human trafficking cases as well as with immigration and housing matters.
Pro bono hours
Obnoxiousness is not an option, according to sources: “I've never found a single associate here to be off-putting or arrogant. They want people who can work in a team, who aren't selfish and stuck-up.”
"Leaders in their law schools."
A genuine interest in Wiley's practices is obviously essential. Chief talent officer Kay Nash tell us that "it's wonderful if someone has previous experience in the communications industry or government contracts, but it's not a mandatory requirement. We're looking for people who are talented, passionate and driven but also, more importantly, involved as leaders in their law schools. We want people who are connected with others in the community in addition to having the drive to succeed in private practice."
Strategy & Future
Back in 2014, the firm initiated a 12-month review which saw it remove its bankruptcy practice and lose 48 lawyers and staff. Now, says managing partner Peter Shields, "the first year of our strategic plan has gone successfully, and we’re looking forward to continuing on this path. Our plan is focused on expanding our elite regulatory practices as well as our litigation capabilities, around the country and internationally – we want to solidify our relationships with other firms around the globe.”
"The first year of our strategic plan has gone successfully."
In the US, says Shields, “we do not have plans to open other offices and are concentrated on growing our current platform – with both Wiley Rein and McBee Strategic in Washington, DC. However, we expect continued growth in enforcement areas including Federal Trade Commission matters, cybersecurity, and ‘Internet of Things’ innovations such as connected cars and health care technologies. As a DC-centric firm, we have prioritized developing our services to clients in need of policy and legal expertise in various areas of evolving government regulation. For example, we collaborate with industry thought leaders on commercial drone use.”
Recent Work Highlights
- Acted for software company Citrix Systems in a bid protest before the Government Accountability Office, relating to software licenses and cloud computing for the US Department of Defense
- Successfully defended Boeing in a bid protest that challenged NASA's decision to award the aviation giant a $4.2 billion contract for ferrying crew to the International Space Station
- Advising on FCC satellite issues for AT&T following its $49 billion acquisition of DIRECTV Enterprises
Interview with managing partner Peter Shields, chief talent officer Kay Nash and chief marketing officer Alina Gorokhovsky
Chambers Associate: What have been the major highlights for the firm over the past 12 months?
Peter Shields: The first year of our strategic plan has gone successfully, and we’re looking forward to continuing on this path. Our plan is focused on expanding our elite regulatory practices as well as our litigation capabilities, around the country and internationally – we want to solidify our relationships with other firms around the globe. Presently, we do not have plans to open other offices and are concentrated on growing our current platform in Washington, DC. However, we expect continued growth in enforcement areas including Federal Trade Commission matters, cybersecurity, and ‘Internet of Things’ innovations such as connected cars and health care technologies. As a DC-centric firm, we have prioritized developing our services to clients in need of policy and legal expertise in various areas of evolving government regulation. For example, we collaborate with industry thought leaders on commercial drone use.
I’d also like to offer some highlights about our largest practice groups. Government Contracts is a premier practice and one of the largest of its kind in the country; we represent approximately 35 percent of the top 1,000 government contractors. One of the major successes for the practice this year involved defending a major aerospace company against another company’s multi-pronged bid protest at GAO and the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, which challenged NASA’s decision to award our client a $4.2 billion contract for NASA’s Commercial Crew Transportation Capability. Under this contract, our client will provide the first operational missions to ferry crew to the International Space Station.
Our Telecom, Media & Technology (TMT) Practice continues to be among the best in the United States, and would be on anyone’s list of the top practices in the space. Over the past year, we have handled numerous high-profile regulatory, litigation, and transactional matters. In addition to our all-star team, we recruited a former FCC Commissioner, Robert McDowell. In 2015, Rob testified at a Senate Commerce Committee hearing on net neutrality. In addition, Brett Shumate, an appellate litigator who was promoted to partner last year, recently argued before the D.C. Circuit that the Federal Communications Commission’s “net neutrality” rules violate the First Amendment. Unlike in large firms where young partners have to stand in line for sizeable matters, Brett has played a key role litigating in the federal district courts, focusing on dispositive motion practice in cases raising complex or novel legal questions. He also represents clients in proceedings before the FCC, including legal and policy advocacy in rulemaking proceedings.
Alina Gorokhovsky: On the media side of the practice, group leader Kathy Kirby was just elected to the firm’s Executive Committee, starting in January 2016. Further, Kathy in the last year served as general counsel to a radio broadcasting company, Alpha Media, playing a crucial role in its acquisition of 114 radio stations from another radio group. The $264 million deal makes our client the fourth-largest radio company in the country.
Our TMT Group is focused on emerging, highly regulated areas, including the Internet of Things (e.g., smart cars and unmanned aerial vehicles). It’s an innovative practice and we are regularly—daily—representing clients in front of more than 40 federal agencies that impact the TMT sector.
In addition to Kathy, Kim Melvin – an Insurance Practice partner and another emerging leader from the next generation of partners – joined the firm’s Executive Committee in January 2016. Our Insurance Group is one of the most prominent and largest insurer-side practices in the United States with a deep bench of more than 40 lawyers. We represent many of the largest insurance companies in the country.
Further, our International Trade Practice continues to be a major player in the United States. In 2015 the U.S. International Trade Commission ruled in favor of our client SolarWorld, finding that the U.S. solar manufacturing industry was injured by imports of solar modules from China and solar cells and modules from Taiwan. In addition, in the past 12 months, Wiley Rein attorneys have represented Nucor Corp., the largest U.S. steel producer, in the biggest set of investigations filed on steel in the last 15 years – a series of antidumping and countervailing duty cases involving corrosion-resistant steel products, cold-rolled and hot-rolled steel.
Our Election Law and Government Ethics Practice, recognized by Chambers USA as “the gold standard in this business,” is representing a 2016 presidential candidate, as well as numerous other politicians and more than 300 U.S. and foreign corporations and trade associations. We also continue to be very strong in IP and litigation, and have had numerous successes in 2015.
We have had a good year, expanding our elite regulatory and litigation practices – all Chambers Top Ranked Areas (Government Contracts; Telecommunications, Media and Technology; Insurance; International Trade; Election Law; and IP & Patent Litigation) – and investing and continuing to grow in top-tier complementary practices. Further, we invested in initiatives focused on nurturing the Wiley Rein culture, and activities that influence and improve our greater community. We are committed to Washington, DC, as well as to a variety of significant pro bono and philanthropic efforts. In addition to our pro bono legal contributions, we donated over $1.5 million to charities last year and topped philanthropy lists for companies (not just law firms) of our size.
CA: What's the firm's strategy for the future? Any office openings in the pipeline? Any particular practice areas that will expand?
PS: Wiley Rein is a young, dynamic firm with a commitment to excellence. Collegiality is more than a buzzword at Wiley Rein. It is a way of doing business in an effective and sustainable manner. That collegial spirit leads to cooperation among attorneys and practices that other firms cannot match. It’s a synergy that benefits our clients by resulting in creative approaches to problems and disputes. Our culture embraces diversity of all kinds and recognizes that we are stronger as a firm due to our wide variety of backgrounds and points of view. We believe in the development of our extraordinary human capital and strive to equip our people with the tools necessary to succeed. We were very pleased with the execution of our strategic plan in 2015, and are on track to reach our goals by 2018. We do not have plans to open other offices – our current platform works very well for our clients and partners.
Another focus for us as part of our strategic plan is to continue to grow our relationships with other firms around the country and globally, by growing and leveraging our networks. A significant number of our new clients in 2015 were referred to us both by current clients and by other law firms that do not have a presence in DC.
And of course, from the associates’ perspective, a significant part of our strategic plan is to focus on them. We invest in our associates by providing them with the right resources and training, as well as giving them client-facing work that they usually won’t get at other firms. We’re focused on organic growth and investing in our talent.
CA: What qualities are you looking for in a prospective junior associate? What advice would you have for a law student thinking of joining the firm?
KN: We’re looking for people who match our focus on our DC regulatory and litigation practices. It’s wonderful if someone has previous experience in the communications industry or government contracts, but it’s not a mandatory requirement. We’re looking for people who are talented, passionate, and driven – but also, more importantly, involved as leaders in their law schools. We look for people who are connected with others in the community in addition to having the drive to succeed in private practice. Diversity of background, thoughts, and ideas are also important to us. We focus on organic growth – the majority of our partners started at the firm as associates, so we are looking for talented individuals to invest in.
CA: Do you have any example of what impresses you at interview?
KN: What impresses us is people who have taken the time to learn about our practice areas and to think about what the Wiley Rein brand can add to their career. We like to see people who are focused on training and development, who want to be lifelong learners and leaders. Being prepared to talk about outside interests is also important in an interview.
CA: Anything else you'd like to add about Wiley Rein?
KN: We’re a young, innovative firm that’s really invested in building a firm for the future and keeping our associates at the forefront, so that they have a wonderful platform on which to thrive.
Wiley Rein LLP
1776 K Street, NW,
- Head Office: Washington, DC
- Number of domestic offices: 1
- Partners (US): 118
- Associates (US): 67
- Summer Salary 2016
- 1Ls: $3080/week
- 2Ls: $3080/week
- Post 3Ls: N/A
- 1Ls hired? CBC
- Split summers offered? No
- Summers 2016: 10
- Offers/acceptances 2015: 10 offers, 8 acceptances (1 received judicial clerkships)
Main areas of work
Communications, government contracts, insurance, international trade, intellectual property, regulatory, litigation.
In 1983, Wiley Rein LLP opened its doors with 39 attorneys and a mission to establish a distinctly Washington, DC firm providing exceptional, effective legal services. Now home to more than 250 attorneys practicing in almost two dozen areas of law, the firm has become an institution in the nation’s capital. Offering our clients a unique integration of legal, regulatory and public policy expertise with an in-depth understanding of the business and technical underpinnings of the industries we serve, Wiley Rein employs an interdisciplinary approach that leverages the full breadth of our talent and knowledge and provides counsel derived from aggressive advocacy and extensive subject matter knowledge.
• Number of 1st year associates: 11
• Number of 2nd year associates: 14
• Associate salaries: 1st year: $180,000
• 2nd year: $190,000
• Clerking policy: Yes
Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2016:
George Mason University School of Law, The George Washington University Law School, Georgetown University Law Center, Harvard Law School, Howard University School of Law, University of Virginia School of Law, Vanderbilt Law School, Washington and Lee University School of Law.
Summer associate profile:
Wiley Rein’s summer associate program is the foundation of our recruiting efforts. We ensure that summer associates experience the excellence and diversity of our firm and we provide opportunities for each student to handle responsibilities typically assumed by first year associates.
Summer program components:
The defining feature of our program is the flexibility of work assignments. We assist students in tailoring their assignments so that they gain significant exposure to a wide variety of practice areas through our interactive database of assignments. In addition, summer associates receive an associate mentor to help integrate them into the firm and our practice. We host an extensive litigation skills training program in addition to other professional development and social events throughout the summer.