Sharp wits but "no sharp elbows," Willkie far exceeded its juniors' expectations.
Whether it was the emphasis on diversity & inclusion that went “beyond just talk,” the lack of billable hours target, or the “extremely down to earth attorneys,” the message from our interviewees was clear: “Willkie is a firm with a reputation for being friendlier and more down to earth than most BigLaw firms.” One insider went as far to argue that Willkie is a firm that “dispels the competitive nature that exists throughout much of BigLaw and the legal industry.”
A bold claim indeed given that the firm’s HQ is in New York,where working cultures are among the most demanding in the country. Willkie is, however, very much a national outfit and in the past few years it has grown considerable. September last year marked the launch of Willkie’s Los Angeles practice, following the success of its Chicago office which was opened the previous year. Other bases include Houston, Palo Alto, San Francisco, and DC. Nationwide Chambers USAawards the firm with 20 distinct rankings, with the firm’s insurance, investment funds, and private equity groups all top ranked. Willkie also has a variety of state rankings to its name, none more so than in New York where its restructuring team comes with coveted ‘elite’ status, and where its commercial litigation team is highly regarded. Go to Chambers.com for the full list. Outside of the US, Willkie has six international offices, all of which are in Europe.
Strategy & Future
Firm partner and chair of the professional personnel committee Antonio Yanez tells us more about Willkie’s growth on the West Coast: “We’re very excited about our new LA office. We started with three partners in three practice areas, and now we have over 30 lawyers there; it complements our existing West Coast practice very well.” The growth isn’t, however, at expense of its HQ in New York, where Willkie’s commitment remains firm. In fact, 18 of the firm’s 43 lateral hires last year joined the New York office.
Aside from geographic growth, Yanez tells us that the firm is well placed to build on its core strengths of corporate M&A, asset management, litigation, and restructuring, all which “are driven by client demand.” Yanez also highlights that the firm will be “seeking Mansfield certification this year,” adding that “both our co-chairs are very active in the space.”
At the time of our calls, a large pool of associates were in the firm’s New York office, with others based in DC, Houston, LA, Chicago, San Francisco and Palo Alto. Corporate & financial services was the most popular destination for juniors, followed by litigation, and asset management. The firm has a range of other practice areas spread out across its network of offices which also take on a number of juniors. Associates find work through assigning partners who are specific to each practice area or office.
The firm’s corporate & financial services group is mainly situated in New York, with additional teams in Houston, LA, and Chicago. This bunch function as a general corporate group, advising clients in the consumer goods and biotechnology industries – among others. Here you’ll find a mix of private and public work, spanning M&A, capital markets, private equity, securities, governance, and funds. “Private equity M&A deals are really interesting,” one junior reflected. “You have to be creative in terms of finding a middle ground – it's less cookie-cutter.” As newbies, sources found themselves doing the typical junior work – diligence, organization, coordination, you know the drill – but “if you show you’re ready to handle more responsibility, you can step up and draft some of the core transaction documents,” sources made clear.
Corporate & financial services clients: Morgan Stanley, BofA Securities, Stone Point Capital. Represented AdaptHealth in its $2 billion acquisition of AeroCare Holdings.
New York, DC, Chicago, LA and San Francisco each host litigation practices, serving many of the biggest Fortune 500 companies. The team has several different specialties, including complex civil litigation, securities, white-collar defense and investigations, insurance, and bankruptcy – “basically anything that involves litigators.” Junior litigators at Willkie are all generalists, with “an emphasis on exposing juniors to different practices within litigation.” As juniors, a lot of time is spent reviewing documents, assisting with filings and pleadings, gathering facts, and presenting to partners. A particular highlight for one insider was “being asked for input on strategy as a second-week associate. There’s an emphasis on it being a collaborative experience and partners have an understanding that you’re not just a robot.” Others enthused over trial experiences and noted that “being the person partners rely on really boosts your confidence as an associate.”
Litigation clients: Citgo, Innoviva, Muller Industries. Represented the underwriters from Goldman and J.P. Morgan in a securities fraud class action following Farfetch’s 2018 IPO.
Most of the juniors in the asset management group join the firm at its New York HQ, with only a handful joining the DC practice. Here you’ll find clients ranging from privately owned sponsors and investment managers to insurance companies and banks seeking advice on fund formations, investments, and restructurings. “Private equity fund formation is a strong focus at the moment,” according to a junior, adding that “a lot of our hedge fund work ties in with the private equity group.” Juniors were kept busy managing funds and the subscription docs, as well as carrying out research and advising clients on maintenance issues. “You get work from all different angles and sides of the industry to become well rounded, and after a few years most associates specialize down one path or the other,” said a third-year. Reflecting on the past year, a second-year added: “With the state of the general legal market right now, I’m doing things that a year ago I would have never thought I was qualified to do – in a good way!”
Asset management clients: Credit Suisse, The New Ireland Fund, T. Rowe Price. Assisted one of the world’s largest asset managers with its launch of new ESG-focused ETFs.
All associates are assigned a partner and an associate mentor upon joining. There is also a strong encouragement to seek out informal feedback and mentorship. “Part of the onus is on you as an associate to seek out opportunities and take initiative,” sources said, adding that “the culture of the firm is one where everyone wants to help juniors understand and become familiar with their practices.”
“Willkie has a lot of homegrown partners. They take care of their own.”
Associates felt that there was definitely a path to partnership at the firm. “As you transition into a senior associate, partners start having that conversation with you,” we heard. “Willkie has a lot of homegrown partners. They take care of their own.” Those that don’t have their sights set on making partner will be pleased to know that the firm also “has a good reputation” for placing attorneys in in-house positions.
Hours & Compensation
Billable hours: no requirement
Our survey stats showed that Willkie juniors were overwhelmingly happy with the firm’s compensation package and bonus allocation. With no billable requirement, bonuses are handed out on a lockstep basis and base salaries are always at market rate. Associates were keen to note that the firm was the first to hand out special COVID bonuses.
“If you want to brag about how you’ve billed more than everyone else, Willkie isn’t the place for you.”
Our survey also found that the firm’s average hours per attorney were below the market average, confirming the allure of a better work/life balance. Our corporate & financial services insiders reckoned that most of their weeks ranged between 40 and 60 hours. “It can be difficult to predict your workflow,” we heard. Those in litigation and asset management felt the stream was a little more predictable, with 45 hours being the average number billed weekly. “The firm’s commitment to not having a billable requirement means that when there is a slight lull in the workflow, you’re not stressed about it,” sources agreed. We were also told that juniors log their hours and assigning partners keep an eye on these to make sure everyone’s performing at class level. An associate shared candidly: “If you want to brag about how you’ve billed more than everyone else, Willkie isn’t the place for you.” Our interviewees felt that vacation was well respected, with associates being taken off email chains “so they’re not bombarded.” However, careful not to paint too rosy a picture, it's worth remembering that Willkie is still a BigLaw firm and that comes with BigLaw expectations.
“I've never been disapproved to join a pro bono matter,” one insider made clear. “All our pro bono is billable.” Juniors were able to take on both immigration and defense cases, both of which were heavily litigation-focused. “The cases don’t have a lot to do with corporate work, so it allows me the opportunity to work with people outside my departments,” said a corporate & financial services junior. Litigators also reflected on the opportunity to work on diverse matters to strengthen their skills: “I get to expose myself to areas of litigation that I may not currently be working on through my ‘billable’ matters.” And for those that have little to no interest in litigation and the courts, fret not: “There’s a good spread of transactional pro bono work too,” confirmed a source. These include transgender name change petitions and uncontested divorce petitions. On many of the matters, our insiders found that they’d been “assigned as the lead rather than an ancillary first-year.”
Pro bono hours
- For all (US) attorneys: 49,688
- Average per (US) attorney: 56.4
Sharp wits, but “no sharp elbows” – Willkie attorneys prided themselves on being “genuine and authentic.” Many of our interviewees brought the conversation back to the lack of billable hours target when discussing the “laid back” culture. “People aren’t led to hoard work because they feel like they’re competing against their peers,” according to a source. Our insiders also reiterated that despite its New York origins, the firm does not subscribe to the cutthroat culture of New York BigLaw, with plenty of “relatively laid-back partners and senior associates.”
"The connection I have with the people I work with gives me that edge to do good work.”
According to our survey responses, remote working had not hampered the social scene either. “We’ve had some outdoor social events since the rollout of the vaccine,” shared a source. “There’s always a good social budget for each event.” At the time of our interviews there was no requirement to be in the office, but associates said that everyone was “itching to get back.” Generally, attorneys are encouraged to come in three days a week. Rather adorably, it seemed that this bunch really did miss the company of one another. “Considering the hours you work together, you think you’d get sick of the people you work with, but that’s not the case!” Juniors chorused that there was a genuine concern for their happiness as well as good work product. “There are few things better in life than meeting new people you get along with, and the connection I have with the people I work with gives me that edge to do good work,” gushed an associate.
Diversity, Equity & Inclusion
“Willkie does a good job of making sure people are included,” sources agreed. The firm has a number of committees and initiatives, including affinity groups and a Women’s Professional Development Committee (WPDC) that aims to empower women at the firm. “They’re cognizant of all types of diversity – racial, sexual identity, disability,” according to a source. Another told us: “We have 50% diversity in my class, and an equal number of men and women were elevated to partner this past year. The D&I partner is extremely influential/given a lot of power and goes out of her way to ensure there is diversity during hiring.” The firm also has a diversity speaker series that hosts movie screenings with guest diversity speakers delivering talks on critical current issues.
The first stage: recruitment on and off campus
OCI applicants interviewed: undisclosed
Interviewees outside OCI: undisclosed
Willkie interviews at approximately 30 schools on campus and at a handful of job fairs. The number of students seen at each campus varies. Professional personnel committee chair Antonio Yanez tells us that on-campus interviewers are typically “attorneys with significant interview experience and often are alumni from the school.” Questions tend to focus on candidates’ skills, attributes, interests and prior experience: “Our goal in the on-campus interview is to gauge the candidate’s abilities and their interest in Willkie.”
Top tips for this stage:
“Be prepared, show a genuine interest in the law and be ready to discuss your career goals.” – Antonio Yanez, partner professional personnel committee chair.
Applicants invited to second stage interview: undisclosed
Candidates interview at the callback stage with four to five attorneys, who are usually a mix of associates and partners: “We aim to match the candidates' interests with the attorneys with whom they interview,” says Yanez. Callback interviews are a “deeper dive” than the on-campus interview, and at this point Willkie is focusing on how the candidate’s skills match their hiring criteria: “Throughout the interview, attorneys are thinking ‘would I want to work with this person on my matters?’ Be prepared to talk in detail about everything on your resume,” Yanez advises.
Top tips for this stage:
“Demonstrate that you are interested in the work, motivated to work hard, have an understanding of the firm, and explain why you are interested in working with us.” – Yanez
Summer associates work with attorneys across the firm. In New York, summer associates rotate through three departments. In the DC, Texas and California offices, associates work in particular practice areas. All of the US summer associates come together in mid-May to meet with firm leaders and to “learn about the firm on a macro level,” Yanez explains. As well as working for clients (both paying and pro bono), summer associates participate in interactive training programs like a corporate negotiations seminar, a mock arbitration seminar and a presentation skills workshop. Each office hosts events and activities that “provide our summer associates with an opportunity to get to know each other, our attorneys and the Firm,” says Yanez.
Throughout the past decade, over 90% of Willkie's summer associates have returned as junior associates. Throughout the summer, Willkie has an ongoing dialogue with each summer associate about their practice area of interest. Yanez tells us that “department assignments are made based on both summer associate preference and departmental staffing needs. Every effort is undertaken to ensure that summer associates are pleased with their ultimate department placement.”
Top tips for this stage:
“Get exposure to quality work and get to know as many attorneys at the firm as possible. Be open-minded and embrace the opportunity to learn and absorb information in a new professional environment.” – Yanez
Number of laterals: 131
Yanez says that “of our new associate hires in any given year, about 65% are returning from our summer program and the balance are lateral hires.” That 35%, Yanez says, typically comes “from top-tier firms in the Am Law 100.” The firm hires laterals “based on department needs. But most often we hire at the mid-level.”
A parting top tip from Yanez is to “be ready to talk about yourself and be honest about what you are looking for in a summer/postgraduation job.”
Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP
787 Seventh Avenue,
- Head Office: New York, NY
- Number of domestic offices: 7
- Number of international offices: 6
- Partners (US): 262
- Associates (US): 494
- Main recruitment contacts: Sarah Collins, Manager, Professional Development & Recruitment (NY); Brittany Olson, Manager, Professional Development and Recruiting (CA); Tiffany Piccirilli, Senior Manager, Legal Personnel & Recruiting (TX/IL); Jeanine Thomas, Senior Manager, Legal Personnel & Recruiting (DC)
- Hiring partners: Amanda Amert (CHI); Anne Choe & Jeffrey Clark (DC); Sameer Advani, Laura Acker, Anne Barrett, Matthew Haddad, Ani Hovanessian, Shaimaa Hussein, Randall Jackson, Claire James, Stuart Lombardi, Anna Martini, Jeffrey Pawlitz, Jason Pearl, Wesley Powell, Mark Proctor, Jocelyn Sher, Danielle Scalzo, Jessica Sheridan, Debra Sinclair, Kim Walker, Tony Yanez; Matt Gurbitz & Thomas Baxter (LA); Tiffany Lee (PA); Simona Agnolucci & Ben Hur (SF); Robert Jacobson (TX).
- Diversity officer: Kim Walker, Partner, Chief Diversity & Inclusion Office and Executive Committee Member
- Recruitment details
- Entry-level associates starting in 2022: 98
- Summers joining/anticipated 2022:
- 1Ls: 24, 2Ls: 98
- Summers joining/anticipated 2022 split by office:
- NY: 72, DC: 12, Houston: 6, CA: 16, IL: 16
- Summer salary 2022:
- 1Ls: $4,134
- 2Ls: $4,134
- Split summers offered? No
- Can summers spend time in an overseas office? Case-by-case
Main areas of work
Brooklyn Law School; Columbia Law School; Cornell Law School; Duke University School of Law; Fordham University School of Law; The George Washington University Law School; Georgetown University Law Center; Harvard Law School; Howard University School of Law; NYU School of Law; Northwestern Pritzker School of Law; Notre Dame Law School; St. John's University School of Law; Stanford Law School; UC Berkeley Law; UC Hastings; UCLA; University of Chicago Law School; University of Houston Law Center; University of Illinois College of Law; University of Michigan Law School; University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School; University of Southern California; The University of Texas School of Law; University of Virginia School of Law; Vanderbilt Law School.
Summer associate profile:
Willkie seeks motivated individuals who have excelled academically. We are looking for candidates who possess ambition, maturity, strong communication skills and the ability to work collaboratively.
Summer program components:
Willkie’s summer program is a terrific introduction to the firm. We offer summer associates the opportunity to work side by side with our attorneys in practice areas of their choice. We offer departmental rotations during the course of the summer. In addition, summer associates participate in a presentation skills workshop, mock arbitration and corporate negotiation training seminars and attend department overviews. Summer associates are evaluated twice during the program: once at mid-summer and then at the end of the program. In addition to giving an introduction to life as an associate, we offer a wide array of social events with the goal of helping our summer associates to get to know one another, our lawyers and the city.
This Firm's Rankings in
USA Guide, 2022
- Insurance: Insurer (Band 4)
- Technology: Transactions (Band 3)
District of Columbia
- Environment: Mainly Transactional (Band 4)
- Litigation: General Commercial: Highly Regarded (Band 2)
- Telecom, Broadcast & Satellite (Band 2)
- Intellectual Property (Band 4)
- Litigation: General Commercial (Band 5)
- Antitrust (Band 4)
- Banking & Finance (Band 4)
- Bankruptcy/Restructuring: The Elite (Band 3)
- Corporate/M&A: Shareholder Activism (Band 2)
- Corporate/M&A: The Elite (Band 4)
- Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation (Band 3)
- Insurance: Dispute Resolution: Policyholder (Band 3)
- Insurance: Transactional & Regulatory (Band 1)
- Intellectual Property: Patent (Band 5)
- Litigation: General Commercial: Highly Regarded (Band 1)
- Litigation: Securities (Band 3)
- Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations: The Elite (Band 5)
- Private Equity: Buyouts (Band 2)
- Real Estate: Mainly Corporate & Finance (Band 3)
- Real Estate: Mainly Dirt (Band 4)
- Tax (Band 3)
- Technology (Band 4)
- Banking & Finance (Band 5)
- Corporate/M&A: The Elite (Band 5)
USA - Nationwide
- Banking & Finance (Band 4)
- Bankruptcy/Restructuring: The Elite (Band 3)
- Corporate/M&A: The Elite (Band 4)
- Derivatives (Band 2)
- Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation (Band 4)
- Energy: Electricity (Regulatory & Litigation) (Band 5)
- Energy: Oil & Gas (Transactional) (Band 3)
- ERISA Litigation (Band 3)
- FCPA (Band 3)
- Financial Services Regulation: Broker Dealer (Compliance & Enforcement) (Band 4)
- Hedge Funds (Band 4)
- Insurance: Transactional & Regulatory (Band 1)
- Investment Funds: Regulatory & Compliance (Band 1)
- Private Equity: Buyouts: High-end Capability (Band 3)
- Private Equity: Buyouts: Mid-Market (Band 1)
- Private Equity: Fund Formation (Band 3)
- Real Estate (Band 5)
- Registered Funds (Band 2)
- Securities: Litigation (Band 4)
- Securities: Regulation: Enforcement (Band 4)
- Tax: Corporate & Finance (Band 4)