Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP - The Inside View

This 130 year old corporate stalwart is characterized by an active social life and a relatively relaxed approach to hours.

"PEOPLE here do talk about the collegial culture, doors always being open, yada yada yada…" said one Willkie associate jokingly, "but to me what really matters is that partners here might just come into my office for a chat and will take us out for lunch or beers. And I literally have no hesitation in picking up the phone to call a partner if I'm slammed and I need more time to do something." This is what associates felt defined working life at Willkie. Add to this a raft of social events, jeans-only Fridays and juniors being able to give anonymous feedback on their seniors (more on this later), and you can see why associates said Willkie "attracts a lot of relaxed and laid back people."

But these lawyers are no idlers: Willkie has a strong reputation for corporate and litigation in New York and nationwide. It has a clutch of rankings in Chambers USA: Willkie sits in the 'elite' category for M&A in New York and nationally, and at the top of the midmarket for litigation in the Big Apple. It also wins a top Chambers ranking for transactional and regulatory insurance work, plus nods for practices including bankruptcy, investment funds, antitrust, and telecom, broadcast & satellite.

The Work

Across the firm's three domestic offices in Houston, DC and New York – where the vast majority of juniors are based – the corporate and litigation groups snag just over half of all newbies. Here work is assigned formally with associates sending weekly reports to assigning partners (we hear that the firm will be shifting to an electronic allocation system in the near future). There are other ways of getting work, “but mostly work filters through the assignment system.” Opinions were mixed on this: some sources really liked it, arguing it prevents “fighting over the most interesting work or people getting too many hours.” Others thought “it does not work as well as I had hoped. Halfway through my second year my assigning partner was very busy and unable to disperse work evenly.” In smaller teams, most of which are in New York, “you just get a call or email from the partners.” Though some said this does result in uneven work distribution, “if you are quiet you are not meant to feel bad and when I have been swamped I've not gotten emails saying 'hey can you look into this.'”

“At first it's a lot to take in because you're working on four matters simultaneously and drawing on multiple areas of law.”

Corporate work at Willkie covers “private equity, M&A, capital markets and a lot of complex insurance work.” Clients include banks like Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs, insurers MetLife, Assurant and Swiss Re, and businesses like shipping company CMA CGM and food producer Bonduelle. Houston focuses on energy clients. Associates do “anything from researching securities law to preparing signature agreements.” A number of juniors found that “at first it's a lot to take in because you're working on four matters simultaneously and drawing on multiple areas of law.” That being said, colleagues were apparently “happy to slow it down and talk you through what you are doing.”

The litigation practice covers antitrust, bankruptcy, white-collar and securities cases as well as FCPA investigations and matters relating to asbestos trusts. Clients include Citigroup, Bloomberg and Warburg Pincus. Different offices have differing focuses, with New York doing a lot of bankruptcy and insurance work, and DC big on government investigations. An associate told us: The majority of last year I was working on a case in the pretrial phase. I drafted letters, discovery requests and responses to discovery requests. I was the only junior on the team, and when we were doing a motion to dismiss I did the first draft of that." Another source, who had been working on investigations, had a somewhat different experience: "I worked with a team of people – some juniors, one senior and the partner – and typically did the doc review and privilege review that needed to get done. I also helped with research and drafting summaries of research. I did a lot of things sitting at the computer – I think some of the other juniors probably had more exposure to clients."

What of the smaller teams? An asset management source was “looking into clients that want to do a particular trade, researching federal securities law and drafting operating agreements.” An IP insider had “been writing a motion to dismiss, discovery responses and discovery requests, as well as taking a couple of depositions.” Meanwhile, juniors in the communications & media team might spend their time “filing comments with the FCC and researching policy issues and factual issues like what shows are on Netflix as opposed to Hulu.”

Culture & Social Life

Willkie has a reputation for being a more sociable firm than some of its New York competitors, and it's well deserved. "There's a large amount of socializing informally," a New York transplant told us. "People come from different parts of the country and so don't have a huge network in the city. Willkie does a great job of integrating us all together." Integration efforts start with monthly 'informal gatherings' a conference room is booked out, food is brought in and “everyone comes to network and mingle.” We also heard of a bowling tournament hosted by the corporate team, the IP team doing an escape room challenge (at the suggestion of the partners), group happy hours, a yearly holiday party ("it's a blast!"), and summer events including an open bar in Central Park and outings to Broadway musicals like Hamilton. Willkie also organizes talks on topical issues, for example criminal justice reform and "the tensions between equal rights and individual religious liberties.” Recent speakers include a former CIA analyst (who delivered a talk on North Korea) and author Kim Barker, who wrote TheTaliban Shuffle – a memoir that covers Barker's time as a journalist reporting in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

There's clearly a lot going on and Willkie is definitely a good fit for juniors who want a firm with an active social life and a "more relaxed" day-to-day atmosphere. Sources did remind us that the focus remains on the work and social events are "concentrated in the summer and the fall."

Hours & Compensation

In keeping with the firm's more relaxed vibe, juniors felt they had a not-so-frantic time when it came to billable hours, primarily because they don't have a target to hit. “One of the best things about compensation here is that there is no pressure to bill a certain amount of hours," sources agreed. "If I ever feel any it's because I want to be pulling my weight.” This doesn’t mean associates can slack off though. Corporate and litigation juniors usually come in between 9 and 10am and are out the door at 7 or 7:30pm when it's quiet, but if it's busier “you can be in the office till midnight every week.” Smaller groups like government investigations have more consistent hours, with juniors arriving between 8:30 and 9:30am and leaving around 6:30 or 7:30pm.

"There is no pressure to bill a certain amount of hours."


Associates share an office till their second year and described the building in New York as “a bit of a mix with wood paneling and glass.” In DC the office was “recently renovated and now feels a bit more modern.” DC folks felt that in their office "the vibe is a little more laid back and reasonable on the hours" than New York, but those in the Big Apple contested this: “Corporate work can be intense, but I've never heard of the culture being different in DC.”

Training & Development

After initial general training, “each department has its own boot camp where you learn what your day-to-day work will be like.” In addition, each office hosts its own CLE lunches. Some associates felt the firm emphasizes on-the-job training so “it's really a trial by fire.” The good news is that “everybody's always willing to give advice. I was run through subtle things like what kind of subject headings to use when something goes to a client.”

"I was run through subtle things like what kind of subject headings to use."

Unusually, Willkie's review system works from bottom to top as well as top to bottom. Associates can fill out an online anonymous feedback form for any person they've worked with for over 25 hours. One insider loved the system: “Elsewhere I've worked with senior colleagues I thought were terrible and I could never express it.” Another source did caution that “you always have to remain polite.”

Pro Bono

While litigators have plenty of pro bono opportunities, transactional juniors had mixed opinions on their options. Some thought they had “a really robust set of opportunities,” while others felt it's “hard to do substantive transactional pro bono.” New York regularly works with Her Justice, which provides free legal services to women in poverty; juniors can also do a four-month externship with the organization, as well as with Mobilization for Justice in New York and the Washington Lawyers' Committee in DC. Sources said they felt comfortable spending as much time on pro bono as they wanted. One interviewee told us: “No one will say, 'Why are you doing pro bono, that's a waste of time!'”

Pro bono hours

  • For all US attorneys: 44,634
  • Average per US attorney: 79


Willkie tries very hard to create a diverse environment,” sources said, pointing toward the Women's Professional Development Committee which is “a really great place to discuss any issues in the workplace.” The firm also provides implicit bias training and diversity mentoring.

"We are not looking for unbridled growth.”

Strategy & Future

Firm chairman Tom Cerabino says the firm intends to grow its M&A, private equity, litigation and investigations, asset management, restructuring and antitrust practices. That's not a particularly focused strategy, we're sure you'll agree, so don't expect any sudden growth spurts from Willkie any time soon. Cerabino told us: “Willkie's philosophy is to be careful in our growth. It's important for us that we know all our partners and maintain quality control. We are not looking for unbridled growth.”

Get Hired

According to professional personnel committee chair Tom Henry, Willkie focuses recruitment on “the top law schools nationwide with a primary focus in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic. We also go to the Northwest and Michigan and focus on top law schools in Texas.” It's not only those at high-flying institutions that get a look-in though. According to Henry, Willkie has “consistently sought alternate sources of talent, going to smaller schools like Howard University School of Law. We think it's incumbent on us to find the diamonds out there at smaller schools who are not on the big firms' radars.” As part of that effort Willkie does not “have a GPA cutoff. Academic success is one important indicator of professional success, but it is only one of the metrics we use to evaluate people.“

Offering their opinion on what the firm likes to see in applicants, one associate told us: “We are looking for people who are actually interested in doing the work we do, and we also want to get along with the people we work with. When you are working late you want the person in the next office to be somebody you have a connection with and someone who fits in with what Willkie stands for culturally.” At the same time, Tom Henry elaborates, the firm "looks for individuals who are self-starters as well as those who can demonstrate an ability to work in a team, whether that's through sports or other clubs. We also like to hear from students what they are passionate about in their lives.”

How should a candidate impress in an interview? “It's not a question of just telling me what's on our website," says Tom Henry. "You have to connect your own experience with that and show how it fits into what Willkie does.” Candidates who do well, he says, are "those where the interviews seem to fly by and the applicant really resonates with the interviewers. The people who are less successful are those who come in and just reiterate what they know about the firm."

Major League Baseball and Willkie

You can trace Willkie's roots back to 1888, when it was founded as a four lawyer, one office firm named Hornblower & Byrne. In the 129 years of its existence the firm has attracted a smattering of house name clients – none more famous than National League Baseball. The Senior Circuit of Major League Baseball first employed the firm's services in 1933, and Willkie has served as regular counsel since.

The United States' national sport has lead to more than few run ins with the law, from the 1919 match-fixing Black Sox Scandal to 2006 Mitchell Report alleging that a large number of players were using performance-enhancing drugs. Perhaps most notorious is the relationship between baseball and federal antitrust laws. In 1922 the Supreme Court heard the case of Federal Baseball Club v. National League, a dispute over apparent monopolization of the sport by Major League Baseball. A unanimous decision declared that baseball should not be classified as interstate commerce and thus is not subject to the Sherman Antitrust Act (prohibiting anti-competitive business activities).

Since that ruling, baseball's unique exemption from antitrust laws has held firm, despite no other sport receiving such special status. Flood v. Kuhn (1972) maintained the status quo primarily on a stare decisis basis, following a past precedent even if that precedent was incorrect in the first place. But that's not to discredit the achievements of Willkie's lawyers: a team consisting of Louis F. Carroll, Mark F. Hughes, Louis L. Hoynes, Jr., Barry Rona, Robert J. Kheel, who argued for the defense and reaffirmed the exemption. The firm has also been involved in sales or acquisitions of multiple National League teams including the Chicago Cubs, Washington Nationals and Montreal Expos.

Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP

787 Seventh Avenue,
New York,
NY 10019-6099
Website www.willkie.com

  • Head Office: New York, NY
  • Number of domestic offices: 3
  • Number of international offices: 6
  • Partners (US): 167
  • Associates (US): 476
  • Contacts  
  • Main recruitment contacts: Christie Bonasera, Associate Director of Legal Recruiting (NY/TX), Jeanine Thomas, Legal Personnel & Recruiting Manager (DC)
  • Hiring partners: Jeffrey Clark (DC); Rajab Abbassi; Sameer Advani; Amelia Cottrell; David Drewes; Matthew Guercio; Benjamin McCallen; Carly Saviano; Danielle Scalzo; Robert Jocabson (TX) Angela Olivarez (TX)
  • Diversity officer: Kim Walker, Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer
  • Recruitment details 
  • Entry-level associates starting in 2018: 52
  • Summers joining/anticipated 2018:
  • 1Ls: 6 , 2Ls: 49
  • Summers joining/anticipated 2018 split by office:
  • NY: 40, DC: 7, Houston: 8
  • Summer salary 2018:
  • 1Ls: $3,462
  • 2Ls: $3,462
  • Split summers offered? No
  • Can summers spend time in an overseas office? Case-by-case

Main areas of work

 Antitrust and competition; asset management; business reorganization and restructuring; communications, media and privacy; commodities and derivatives; corporate and financial services; environmental; energy; health and safety; executive compensation and employee benefits; government relations; insurance; intellectual property; litigation; private clients; real estate; and tax.

Firm profile

 Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP was founded 130 years ago upon principles that still characterize our practice today. Our founders and memorable colleagues, like Wendell Willkie and Felix Frankfurter, established a strong foundation of integrity, innovation, pragmatism, flexibility and intellectual agility designed to continually meet the ever changing business needs of our clients. We continue our tradition of excellence by keeping nimble, working collaboratively, with respect and professionalism, and by integrating our philosophy into our client relationships. Our clients rely on us not only for our creativity, skill, leadership, decisiveness and high quality of work, but because they know we are solution-oriented and we get the job done effectively and efficiently.


Law schools attending for OCIs in 2018:
Brooklyn, Columbia University, Cornell, Duke, Emory Fordham University, GWU, Georgetown University, Harvard, Howard University, NYU, Northwestern University, St. John’s University, Tulane, University of Michigan, University of Pennsylvania, University of Texas, UCLA, UVA, Vanderbilt, Washington University, and Yale.

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.

Social media

Recruitment website: www.willkie.com/careers

This Firm's Rankings in
USA Guide, 2019

Ranked Departments

    • Telecom, Broadcast & Satellite (Band 2)
    • Antitrust (Band 4)
    • Bankruptcy/Restructuring (Band 3)
    • Corporate/M&A: The Elite (Band 4)
    • Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation (Band 4)
    • Insurance: Dispute Resolution: Policyholder (Band 2)
    • Insurance: Transactional & Regulatory (Band 1)
    • Litigation: General Commercial: Highly Regarded (Band 1)
    • Litigation: Securities (Band 3)
    • Real Estate: Mainly Corporate & Finance (Band 4)
    • Real Estate: Mainly Dirt Recognised Practitioner
    • Tax (Band 3)
    • Banking & Finance (Band 4)
    • Bankruptcy/Restructuring (Band 3)
    • Capital Markets: Derivatives (Band 3)
    • Corporate/M&A: The Elite (Band 4)
    • Energy: Oil & Gas (Transactional) Recognised Practitioner
    • FCPA (Band 3)
    • Insurance: Transactional & Regulatory (Band 1)
    • Investment Funds: Private Equity: Fund Formation (Band 4)
    • Investment Funds: Registered Funds (Band 2)
    • Investment Funds: Regulatory & Compliance (Band 1)
    • Private Equity: Buyouts (Band 4)
    • Securities: Litigation (Band 4)
    • Securities: Regulation (Band 4)
    • Tax: Corporate & Finance Recognised Practitioner