WilmerHale - The Inside View

From DC to Boston to Palo Alto, there's plenty of high-level work available at this “respectful, friendly and collaborative” firm. 

IT'S been a strong year for WilmerHale, whose 8.7% rise in partner profits accompanied a 6.4% total rise in revenue in 2015 to $1.14 billion. On a national level, the firm sweeps up a clutch of top-tier rankings in Chambers USA for areas such as appellate, antitrust & cartel, securities regulation, life sciences, and IP litigation. Favorable rankings also fall for Wilmer's international arbitration, FCPA [Foreign Corrupt Practices Act] investigations, and international trade practices, which are served by overseas offices in Beijing, Brussels, Frankfurt, Berlin and London.

The firm's securities litigation, bankruptcy/restructuring, and government relations groups also get recognition, the latter proving a big draw for some associate interviewees thanks to the career opportunities it presents for a future in public service. “We have a strong record for sending people there – particularly as prosecutors in the US Attorney's office – and it's a path the firm really supports,” enthused one insider. “A stint in government provides knowledge and experience that can really benefit our clients, so even at interview we were told that there's always a revolving door between both entities.”

But most attractive of all was the “respectful, friendly and collaborative atmosphere” at the firm. “There's a real culture of support here that means we're encouraged to pursue our interests and never left to pick up the pieces,” rookies agreed. “Even when a crazy deal has gone awry, everyone is there in the trenches to ensure that no one is slogging away alone all night.”

The Work

Around two-thirds of entry-level associates are split between the Boston and DC offices, with the rest spread around LA, New York and Palo Alto. Wilmer's litigation/controversy group snaps us the majority of new starters, though there's also space for fresh faces in the transactional, IP, regulatory & government affairs, and securities practice (which is divided into contentious and noncontentious work).

A centralized work allocation process not only “helps you to find your feet,” but remains at associates' disposal as they progress through the ranks. “After a year or two you begin to develop workstreams with partners and senior attorneys,” said one junior, “so you won't always require the same degree of docket management as when you first started.” Still, “it's an impeccable process. If you're running low you can just email your practice manager and they'll help you out, so you're never left on your own to solicit work.”

"There's no middle filter leaving you with all the doc review."

The litigation pool gives juniors the opportunity to try out a number of different practice groups, before specializing toward the end of their third year. “The reality of working at such a government-focused outfit is that there's a lot of appellate work passing through the door,” said a DC source, but others here and elsewhere had a more varied experience. As one New Yorker countered, “there are plenty of opportunities to work on appellate cases, and I've helped out on a few of those cases with colleagues in DC. But no one in New York works exclusively on appellate. I've taken on plenty of general business litigation, IP lit, and some securities stuff too.” Associates' responsibilities “ramp up quickly” thanks to the fact that “our teams really aren't that big. I routinely work directly with a partner, so there's no middle filter leaving you with all the doc review. From the start I was engaged in strategic planning, writing briefs and communicating with clients.”

Wilmer's regulatory & government affairs group helps corporate clients – often from the aviation, defense, communications, financial services and pharmaceuticals sectors – to manage and litigate against government regulation. Rookies “begin as the master of facts,” so are “responsible for keeping tabs on all the key documents, understanding the major issues for our client that arise out of the documents in the government's possession, and then forming theories on particular areas of focus.” Juniors that do a good job of keeping things running smoothly “are recognized and rewarded with more managerial responsibilities.”

Training & Development

“The firm takes our development very seriously,” sources agreed. “People are pretty open with their ambitions and partners try to help you if they can. If you're interested in going into government or in-house, then the online alumni database is a really useful resource.” The firm also assigns juniors a mentor who they meet with several times each year, and interviewees praised partners for the interest they take in associates' careers. “One recently came up to me and said, 'I've been really thinking about your career, have you considered this?' It's great to feel that people are thinking about your development and how they can help you to advance.”

“90% of the people I've worked with I've already met in person."

On a more formal basis, three days of orientation training are followed up by regular practice group sessions, featuring lectures, discussions and workshops. The training features useful pointers on areas ranging from legal writing to professional conduct and profile management. Then there are practice group retreats every year or so that bring lawyers together. “Training and networking were the two main focuses,” explained one insider. “90% of the people I've worked with I've already met in person,” said one IP whiz.


DC and Boston may be WilmerHale's biggest units, but there was no fear of smaller offices getting the satellite treatment. As one Californian said, “we work regularly with other US offices: every day we're on the phone, emailing or teleconferencing one another, so there's really the feeling that we function as one network.” A large part of this cohesion is down to Wilmer's cross-office approach, which in the eyes of co-managing partner Bob Novick means “we're really not organized by offices at all, but structured at a departmental level.” Administrative partners help to manage the running of individual offices, but “if you're a litigator it doesn't matter which office you're in, you're managed as part of WilmerHale's litigation department," Novick continues. "You're not in Boston, Frankfurt or Denver, you're in litigation. It's the same for all of our practices. Encouraging that degree of collaboration facilitates better training, better coverage of global issues, and easier and more efficient staffing.”

“We're really not organized by offices at all, but structured at a departmental level.”

Wilmer's youngest US operation is in Denver. To find out more, head to the Bonus Features.


The Boston office holds a happy hour every Friday affectionately known as CAMS (the Chowder and Marching Society). When asked to elaborate about the name's origins, associates sighed: “It's a longstanding firm tradition.” Still, “it's a lovely way to end the week,” and associates were impressed by the average turnout. “There's free beer, wine and appetizers, and people will pop in, grab a snack and catch up. There's no pressure to attend, but people stop by for as long as they can.” Another Bostonian added: “It's been a wonderful surprise to see that partners like getting involved. They're all such busy and impressive figures, but really make the time to help foster a friendly work environment.” In DC and New York, drinks in the office are a monthly occurrence, and those in the capital were keen on the themed spreads laid on. “The theme often depends on which part of the year we're at. We don't all arrive in costumes, but the food and drinks usually have some unique additions. St. Patrick's Day, Hallowe'en and Thanksgiving are always good fun.”

"We all respect one another for our skills and intellect."

Such efforts help to create a working atmosphere devoid of any discernible hierarchical divisions. As one rookie in Palo Alto reported, “it's normal to joke around with partners. We all respect one another for our skills and intellect, so there's no fear that you need to bootlick your superiors."

Pro Bono 

Pro bono work is headed up by a committee and an attorney in DC, who sends out larger cases across the firm's network of US offices. Juniors who wish to take on a case must first check in with their practice manager, to ensure they have sufficient space in the diary. “Practice managers also keep us up to date with smaller local opportunities,” added one insider. Sources had taken on “a ton of pro bono work,” thanks in part to the fact that there's no limit on the number of pro bono hours that can count toward the billable target. Consequently, many of our sources had been busy conducting interviews and writing briefs for a kaleidoscope of different cases. Excessive force claims against the police, cross-border child abduction cases and clemency petitions were some of the more interesting-sounding matters that hit our radar.

"I've done a ton of pro bono work."

Pro bono hours: 

  • For all attorneys across all US offices: 99,822
  • Average per US attorney: 97

Hours & Compensation

All of juniors' pro bono hours can count toward their 2,000 hour billable target. Ten-hour days seemed a reasonable daily stint across offices, and “many leave at around 7pm to have dinner with their family before getting back online for a couple of hours at night.” Associates really appreciated such flexibility, and were keen to point out that it extends to maternity and paternity leave too: “The firm's really supportive of that,” they beamed. “A lot of people who've recently had children come back on 80% while they're still figuring it all out.”

“A lot of people who've recently had children come back on 80% while they're still figuring it all out.”

The bonus system had a bit of a shake-up recently, though “the adjustments only affect those in their fourth year or above,” according to chair of the DC office's hiring committee, Chris Davies. “While our bonus program remains closely aligned with performance, we’ve chosen to shift a higher portion of total compensation back into base salaries for senior associates and counsel.”


“Diversity is something we discuss regularly,” revealed one associate. “There are even diversity talks held which tie in with our legal training.” Wilmer's 'Diversity Speaker Series' program stages networking events, which feature guest speakers from the government or particular industry sectors, who in recent events have covered matters as wide-ranging as diversity and inclusion in the financial services industry, to the firm's role in supporting South African lawyers in using the rule of law to combat apartheid. Lunchtime sessions staged by associates also “cover developments in the US courts,” we heard, “things like the Supreme Court's handling of same-sex marriage. Covering both the legal and diversity-related points makes for some really interesting talking points.” With female lawyers making up 46% of associates, “the ratio between male and female associates is pretty good,” and there is a range of affinity groups help to represent female, ethnic minority and LGBT lawyers across the firm.

“Something we discuss regularly.”

Get Hired

“There are three things we like to see in applicants,” DC hiring chair Chris Davies explains. “Initiative, imagination and articulation. Some of that is evident in an applicant's resume, and we're always interested to see which awards, life experiences and law school commitments they've listed. But that's your price of entry. During an interview, we really want to see aspiring lawyers who are passionate in describing what's listed on their resume. We want a sense of how deeply they were involved in certain groups or projects, because that can really hint at a young professional who is both fun to work with and dedicated to their work."

“We like to see: initiative, imagination and articulation."

Some big no-nos include apparent uninterest: “If they show no passion or interest in their own work or the work of the firm then it's likely not a good fit, no matter how good their resume looks.” Arrogance won't get you far either: “We really frown on that,” Davies asserts. “There's a fine line between self-possession and confidence, and coming across as self-important. Weeding out those that are too high in their own estimations is an important part of our hiring process. We spend a lot of time working with one another and want to work with people that we can enjoy being around.”

Strategy & Future

At the time of our research there were no big moves lined up for WilmerHale, but according to co-managing partner Bob Novick, “we'll continue to build on our strengths and invest in all of our practices over the next couple of years.” Though “there will still be growth on a lateral level,” expect greater investment beyond Wilmer's “geographically mature” strongholds in Washington and Boston. “The opportunity for growth is greater in New York,” he adds. “With some 200 lawyers it's already a good strong size, but the New York market is so busy that we'd be foolish not to focus a good deal of our resources there.”

“Wilmer has probably got the strongest IP litigation practice in the country,” Novick claims, “so we're definitely looking to take that strength and build out further. We offer IP litigation in our London office, and are looking at our prospects to grow that practice both in the UK and Germany.”

Sittin' pretty in Mile-High City: Wilmer's Denver office


Looking to diversify its client base, Wilmer Hale recently targeted Denver, CO as a top spot to crack into the Rocky Mountain region. Opening shop in early 2014, the region must have represented serious potential for WilmerHale's profit margins, as the firm pulled out the stops to ensure business would be booming from the off. Industry leading professionals such as Ken Salazar – who's pulled stints as the US secretary of the Interior, senator for Colorado, and Colorado Attorney General – and Tom Strickland – former US Attorney for Colorado, lead policy advisor to the Governor of Colorado, assistant secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks, and chief of staff to the Department of the Interior – were drafted in, providing a boot-on-the-ground local nous from the off. But what makes Denver a good fit, and what does Wilmer bring to the equation? Well we kind folks here at Chambers Associate dusted off our Stetson, pulled on our chaps, and decided to get digging.

According to the NY Times, the federal government owns just four percent of land east of the Mississippi river. However, in the 11 Western states – those west of and including Montana, Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico – the US government's share shoots up to 47%. According to managing partner Bob Novick “The government doesn't have much use for this land beyond leasing it and licensing it. Being in Denver presents a huge competitive advantage for our firm, as we have an excellent reputation for dealing with the federal government.”

Of all the cities in the US, Boulder, CO attracts the fifth highest level of venture capital investment per capita, according to a recent survey. Fuelled by a burgeoning cluster of start-ups emanating from the University of Colorado, there could be gold in the hills for WilmerHale's IP offering, which already draws top rankings nationwide in Chambers USA. As Novick states, “when you're moving into a market where other firms have long been operating, you have to ask yourself why you think you'll succeed. The Denver market is hospitable to some of our key skill-sets, so we're making a go of it. It's also a market that is well-positioned to extend our reach in areas including energy and environment, investigations and litigation, strategic response, and Native American law.”

Things seem to be going well so far: “We've newly outfitted our office space, which will open with a reception in May 2016 for clients and friends,” Novick grins. “We currently have 14 revenue generators in the office, comprising a mix of partners, counsel, senior associates and paralegals. We've got the best in the business joining our ranks, and are already working for a number of Colorado-based companies, so all-in-all it's been a great start.”

As if the prospect of big-ticket energy deals, a flourishing start-up scene and plenty of government work wasn't enough, Denver also represents a way of life vastly different to the hamster-wheel grind of New York or DC. Skiing, good beer, hiking and a blossoming horticultural scene all combine to create an exciting extracurricular vibe that's clearly popular with world-renowned multinationals. Sun Microsystems, Western Union, Comcast and Halliburton are just some of the big names with operations in the city.


60 State Street,
MA 02109
Website www.wilmerhale.com

350 South Grand Avenue,
Suite 2100,
Los Angeles,
CA 90071

7 World Trade Center,
250 Greenwich Street,
New York,
NY 10007

950 Page Mill Road,
Palo Alto,
CA 94304

1875 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW,
Washington, DC,

1225 17th Street Suite 1660,
CO 80202

  • Head Office: Boston, MA and Washington, DC
  • Number of domestic offices: 6
  • Number of international offices: 5
  • Worldwide revenue: $1.14 billion
  • Partners (US): 255
  • Associates (US): 568
  • Summer Salary 2016  
  • 1Ls: $3,500/week
  • 2Ls: $3,500/week
  • Post 3Ls: N/A
  • 1Ls hired? Yes
  • Split summers offered? Yes
  • Can summers spend time in overseas office? Yes
  • Summers 2016: 104
  • Offers/acceptances 2015: 80 offers, 57 acceptances, 20 pending

Main areas of work
Our global practice includes over 600 litigators with unmatched trial, appellate and Supreme Court experience; a preeminent securities law practice with over 130 lawyers; a regulatory practice that includes more than 110 lawyers who have held high-level government positions; an intellectual property practice enriched by the expertise of more than 170 attorneys and technology specialists who hold scientific or technical degrees; more than 200 seasoned corporate transactional lawyers and business counselors; and lawyers who focus on bankruptcy, environmental, labor and employment, private client, real estate and tax matters.

Firm profile
WilmerHale offers unparalleled legal representation across a comprehensive range of practice areas that are critical to the success of our clients. We practice at the very top of the legal profession and offer a cutting-edge blend of capabilities that enables us to handle deals and cases of any size and complexity. With a practice unsurpassed in depth and scope by any other major firm, we have the ability to anticipate obstacles, seize opportunities and get the case resolved or the deal done—and the experience and know-how to prevent it from being undone. Our heritage includes involvement in the foundation of legal aid work early in the 20th century, and today we consistently distinguish ourselves as leaders in pro bono representation. Many of our lawyers have played, and continue to play, prominent roles in public service activities of national and international importance—from counseling US presidents to opposing discrimination and defending human rights around the world. Most importantly, our firm stands for a steadfast commitment to quality and excellence in everything we do—a commitment reflected in the continued success of our clients across the globe and our dedication to the development of our attorneys.

Recruitment details
• Number of 1st year associates: 65
• Number of 2nd year associates: 51
• Associate salaries: 1st year: $180,000
• 2nd year: $190,000
• Clerking policy: Yes.
The firm welcomes applications from judicial clerks. Approximately one-third of our recent incoming classes have come to the firm after serving one or more judicial clerkships. We value the experience of clerkships and give credit for clerkships for compensation and seniority purposes. We also pay a competitive bonus to incoming clerks.

Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2016:
University of California-Berkeley, Boston College, Boston University, University of Chicago, Columbia, Cornell, Duke, Fordham, George Washington, Georgetown, Harvard, Howard, Loyola Law School - LA, Michigan, Northwestern, Northeastern, NYU, University of Pennsylvania, Santa Clara, Stanford, Suffolk, University of California-LA (UCLA), University of California-Davis, University of Colorado- Boulder, University of Denver, University of Southern California (USC), University of Virginia, University of Washington, Yale

Summer details  

Summer associate profile:
We seek to hire an extraordinarily talented and diverse group of students whose academic and personal record of achievement demonstrates a commitment to excellence and who want to practice law at the highest and most demanding levels, while still enjoying lives enriched by public, professional and personal pursuits outside the firm. We have identified six competencies—commitment, confidence, oral communication, problem solving, teamwork and writing—that outline what constitutes outstanding performance at WilmerHale and are used to align our selection criteria and evaluations of candidates and summer associates with our expectations of attorneys. In addition, we seek individuals whose character, intelligence, judgment and training will inspire their colleagues and clients to have confidence in their advice and representation.

Summer program components:
By providing a realistic view of the firm through interesting work assignments, practical training and the opportunity to work and socialize with many of our lawyers, we give summer associates the insight needed to make an informed decision to join the firm after graduation or a clerkship. Summer associates do substantive client work and have the opportunity to try a broad range of practices or focus on a few, depending on their interests. Summer associates also have the opportunity to attend client meetings and trials whenever possible. Our mentors provide guidance and constructive feedback throughout the summer and make themselves available to their mentees as resources in the firm. We have developed training programs specifically for our summer associates designed to assist in their professional development by introducing the practical skills lawyers need and provide a sample of our training programs for our attorneys. Summer training topics include: research skills, leadership, negotiation skills, deposition skills, presentation skills/oral communication skills, legal writing, departmental panels and meetings, case studies and mock trials. In addition, summer associates receive a review of their work and are encouraged to provide feedback about their experience.