Associates hailed WilmerHale as “a firm for folk who are intellectually curious.”
JUST over a decade ago, an octogenarian Boston-based firm joined forces with a DC outfit founded in the '60s. Together they became WilmerHale... a force to be reckoned with across numerous practice areas, including appellate, FCPA (Foreign Corrupt Practices Act) investigations, antitrust and cartel work, securities regulation, life sciences and IP. Just take a look at Chambers USA, which awards top-tier spots to all the aforementioned practices on a national level and also recognizes the firm's capabilities in areas including securities litigation, international trade, government relations and bankruptcy/restructuring.
Asked why they were attracted to the firm, some associates highlighted WilmerHale's areas of expertise, such as “its government connections and receptivity to people going in and out of government.” Every single source, however, talked about “the people” as a major draw. “When I came here to interview, I found that the people were different. They did not BS me. The whole process can feel very fake but even as I've continued to work here I've found people to be direct, straightforward and intellectually curious.”
Boston and DC welcome the largest number of associates, with smaller numbers taking up residence in LA, New York and Palo Alto. The majority of juniors go into the litigation/controversy group, although there's also the possibility of entering the transactional, IP, regulatory & government affairs or securities practice (divided into contentious and non-contentious work). WilmerHale has a “hybrid approach” to work allocation. Formally, practice managers have “the specific job of making sure that associates are getting staffed on enough work and work that they're interested in.” However, “as you become more senior, a lot of work comes directly from partners that I've worked with before and who want to staff me on their cases.” Despite this informal channel, associates “can and do use the formal system when things are slow or you're looking to get into a certain area of work.”
“My cases have tended to be a mix.”
A litigator explained that “my cases have tended to be a mix. I've done a couple of interesting FCPA cases, some white-collar criminal investigations relating to antitrust violations and cartels, and general commercial work.” Others had taken on hefty amounts of IP litigation and securities litigation. Although juniors tend to specialize at the end of their third year, “your specialization doesn't necessarily prohibit or restrict what types of work you can take on.” A source revealed: “The most challenging and exciting thing so far was working on an IP case for a pharma client. I was involved in all the steps between discovery through to the trial. I drafted deposition outlines for expert witnesses, portions of expert reports and cross-examination outlines.” Other common litigator tasks include “managing staff attorneys, drafting chronologies, responding to subpoenas, legal research and doc review.”
Training & Development
WilmerHale provides “a lot of training, spanning substantive things like deposition instruction as well as sessions to help you build communication and oral advocacy skills.” Newcomers start out with a three-day orientation that covers essentials like “firm policies, how to bill time and how to talk to clients.” After that, first-years from all over congregate in either the DC or Boston office for some practice-specific training. Over the course of their first twelve months, juniors have a “regular curriculum of sessions where partners talk about things like how to develop case themes or lessons learned from certain cases." Plus, "there's writing training and a mock oral argument. And then there are the standard CLEs you can opt into.” Overall, associates thought “most of my learning comes from being given a specific project and then asking people I know how to approach it, but the training strikes a good balance between getting you prepared and not taking up too much time.”
“A good balance.”
Reviews occur every six months. Outside of the official evaluation system, the level of day-to-day feedback “depends on your personality and the personality of the person you're working with. Generally people are open and honest, but sometimes it's difficult to know once you've done something if you did a good job or not. It can be a bit of a black box.” Generally, “partners are responsive and willing to give advice” and most sources spoke positively of informal mentoring relationships they'd built up in addition to the official mentoring program.
Associates in DC work in “spacious and comfortable offices” within a “gorgeous building with a waterfall in the lobby.” One insider trilled: “It's very familiar and close-knit. I sound like a walking cliché right now, but it feels like a campus!” The Boston base, which is “big for securities and IP work,” is located “right in the center of the city surrounded by great amenities.” The building itself has “recently undergone renovations, so I've no complaints! Everything is new and fresh and there's a good amount of light. Plus the views are spectacular.” Over in New York, WilmerHale is located in the World Trade Center. “It's beautiful, everyone always comments on it. A lot of movies and TV shows are filmed here. One of the boardrooms recently became part of Wayne Enterprises for an episode of Gotham!”
In early 2014, WilmerHale set up camp in the Rocky Mountains and opened an office in Denver, designed to strengthen the firm's services in the spheres of energy and environment, investigations and litigation, strategic response, and Native American law. Overseas, the firm has offices in Beijing, Berlin, Brussels, Frankfurt along with two London bases and an Oxford outpost in the UK.
It's okay to get your light saber out in the Boston office if you're so inclined. Associates told us happily that “there's a subset of the firm with a geeky culture, predominately in the IP department. People like Star Wars and Star Trek and all their derivative properties.” Elsewhere, we heard that there's a “team mentality, a sense of 'let's roll up our sleeves and get this done.'” In addition, juniors felt that “the people here are a lot of fun to be around; it almost feels like you're surrounded by friends or even family in some cases. It reaches the point where you forget you're working for a big law firm. It feels very tight-knit.”
“You can joke around with co-workers.”
Over in DC, an insider remarked that “there aren't a lot of gregarious types; people have more of an intellectual bent.” One source told it straight: “This is a firm for folk who are intellectually curious, who want to debate the law, who are interested in the intersection of law and policy and law with government. What's interesting about Wilmer is that it's not taboo to say you're not interested in making partner and that you want to go into government. People openly admit to it and there's no professional fallout from it.” Aside from this, “people are friendly and collegial and all that. The partners are all super-smart; some are super-weird! The ones who are not are fantastic mentors!” Meanwhile in New York, “you can joke around with co-workers. It feels very human.”
The Boston office holds a happy hour every Friday, while in DC and New York this is a monthly occurrence. A Bostonian mentioned that “there's a lot of space to be hyper-social with the firm or not. Neither is bad.”
Hours & Compensation
Associates aim to hit 2,000 hours a year. This billable target “is very realistic,” according to interviewees. “It's not exactly easy but it's a fairly reasonable expectation and standard in the market.” One pointed out that “sometimes you can have a couple of light months,” but overall our respondents asserted that they'd “not been short on hours.” Pro bono work and business development hours also count toward the 2,000 target.
“A fairly reasonable expectation."
On average, most associates tend to put in ten-hour shifts. Though some admitted to “struggling with work/life balance,” others declared that “apart from a couple of weeks that were pretty brutal, I'm quite happy with it. The hours are actually extremely flexible – the firm is open to people working from home.” Other sources echoed this sentiment: “Everyone tells you that there's no face time requirement and I thought that was bullshit when I first came here. But it's true! They don't care where you are!” Within reason, of course: "If I want to go home for dinner and work remotely in the evening that's totally fine. I don't have to sit in the office until 10pm." When it comes to the bonus system, “it's a little opaque but my sense is that having worked for 2,000 hours I expect to get a bonus and I would be shocked if I didn't.”
All of our interviewees felt that pro bono is “taken extremely seriously” here. Indeed, an unlimited number of pro bono hours can count toward the billable target. “If you spend hundreds of hours doing nothing but pro bono at the beginning of the year you'd be encouraged not to spend another couple hundred hours on it. But that's a pretty extreme example. I take on significant amounts of pro bono and I've never felt that it takes second place to paying client work.” Our sources had been involved in “really interesting matters” such as employment discrimination and housing appeals, asylum cases for political refugees and human trafficking issues.
Pro bono hours
“I think that diversity is always being discussed and the firm tries very hard, but in terms of numbers it's not great,” mused a junior. The diversity committee runs “a lot of initiatives and programs that are really well received,” such as speaker events, theater trips and a “super-fun karaoke night.” However, most associates pointed out that “what matters is retention. There just aren't enough diverse partners." A Bostonian attorney reminded us that “this city is not terribly diverse, so the cross-section of society you're starting off with is more homogeneous. However, I applaud that the firm engages in self-critical work like spending time and money bringing in an external consultant to help the firm assess how it was doing with diversity.”
“What matters is retention."
“This is an intellectual place,” juniors agreed. “They want people with strong ideas and levels of thinking. A lot of clerks are recruited, and on the IP side there are a lot of people with PhDs.” Hiring partner Chris Davies tells us: “What we're looking for year in and year out are people who are smart, engaged and imaginative. A prerequisite across offices is that people be effective and clear writers.” He continues: “A common error at interviews is for someone to appear less than enthusiastic and engaged. Our assumption is that they don't want to be here. The second error is that they don't understand the importance of the writing sample.”
Strategy & Future
Co-managing partner Susan Murley informs us: “We had a terrific year in 2014. We had an extraordinary amount of work and great lawyering. We had six wins at the US Supreme Court and literally dozens of sensitive government investigations and proceedings on issues ranging from high-frequency trading to whistle-blower claims.” Over the past twelve months, “we worked hard to build on new practice areas and they include energy and natural resources, cyber-security and privacy, and education.” Looking ahead, “the core of our strategy is building on our strengths. This is part of an evolution and not revolution. We want to maintain our market-leading practices and then expand into new areas that are adjacent to them.”
Over in the corporate department, “we have clients ranging from Harvard Business School startups through to mature public companies and household names like Staples.” Juniors tackle “M&A work, stock purchases, venture capital financings and a lot of IPOs” along with “public company counseling – responding to their day-to-day questions.”
An associate recalled “taking a first cut at all of the documents to incorporate and issue equity for a startup. I was working just with a partner, which is great because you're not lost in the shuffle. On larger deals like IPOs I still do some due diligence but I'm not spending most of my time doing administrative tasks.”
A Big Apple insider told us: “I didn't like the feel of some New York firms: they're so big and faceless and I felt like nobody would even know you'd been in the office. Here at Wilmer it's big enough that the work is very interesting but not so big it feels anonymous. I liked the people I met. They seemed like real people, like you were actually talking to the real person.”
Comparing WilmerHale with other possible BigLaw destinations, an interviewee noted: “I felt very, very comfortable with folk here – they're sort of casual and friendly. The personality fit was excellent.”
Interview with Susan Murley, co-managing partner
Chambers Associate: What highlights from the past year would you want to flag up to student readers interested in your firm?
SM: We had a terrific year in 2014, a year defined by us building on our strengths. We had defining and exciting moments both in terms of the work we do and in the growth of our practices. On the work front, we had an extraordinary amount of work and great lawyering. It's always rewarding to have great work and that ends up defining the financial results for the year.
In addition it provided great learning opportunities for our lawyers, which is pretty fundamental to who we are. Some examples: we had six wins at the US Supreme Court, which is a record number, including the victory for POM Wonderful. We had literally dozens of sensitive government investigations and proceedings on issues ranging from high-frequency trading to whistle-blower claims.
Within cyber-security and privacy, we've built an extraordinary team and we helped navigate data breaches of household-name companies you read about on the pages of the Wall Street Journal. In addition, we opened our new Denver office and worked hard to build on new practice areas which include energy and natural resources, cyber-security and privacy, and education, which is a key focus.
CA: What's the firm's strategy for the future?
SM: The core of our strategy is building on our strengths. If students are thinking now about what the firm will look like in three years, I always say that this is part of an evolution and not a revolution. We build on what we're really good at to thrive in the future. When I talk about building on strengths I mean both maintaining practices where we're market leaders and then expanding into new areas that are adjacent to our current areas. That could mean new geographies or taking our practice strengths into new client bases.
Underlying all of this is that for us it's the quality of our practice that's most important thing and helps maintain our place in the legal profession. We recognize that we're only as only as good as the next generation of lawyers at our firm so training is critically important to us. Part of our strategy is that we'll continue to have a key focus on pro bono and public service. That's a key feature of this firm. We encourage pro bono and public service, many of our lawyers do it and it'll certainly continue to be a fundamental aspect of WilmerHale.
CA: How would you define the firm’s character or culture. What makes WilmerHale unique?
SM: We have an expression here that we are a firm characterized by 'hard work, team work and quality work' and that each person in the firm, both lawyers and staff alike, counts and is valued. We pride ourselves on our ability to work as a firm across geographies, across practice areas, and we foster the teamwork element of our culture. In terms of the quality of work, excellence defines who we are. And it's hard work because we do a lot of great work.
60 State Street,
350 South Grand Avenue,
7 World Trade Center,
250 Greenwich Street,
950 Page Mill Road,
1875 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW,
60 State Street,
1225 17th Street Suite 1660,
- Head Office: Boston, MA and Washington, DC
- Number of domestic offices: 6
- Number of international offices: 7
- Worldwide revenue: $1.071 billion
- Partners (US): 260
- Associates (US): 621
- Summer Salary 2015
- 1Ls: $3,100/week
- 2Ls: $3,100/week
- Post 3Ls: N/A
- 1Ls hired? Yes
- Split summers offered? Yes
- Can summers spend time in overseas office? Yes
- Summers 2015: 82
- Offers/acceptances 2014: 24 offers, 87 acceptances, 57 outstanding
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 180 lawyers; a regulatory practice that includes more than 140 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 scientifi c 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.
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 refl ected in the continued success of our clients across the globe and our dedication to the development of our attorneys.
Number of 1st year associates: 77
Number of 2nd year associates: 48
Associates salaries: 1st year: $160,000
2nd year: $170,000
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 2015:
University of California-Berkeley, Boston College, Boston University, University of Chicago, Columbia, Cornell, Duke, Fordham, George Washington, Georgetown, Harvard, Howard, Michigan, Northwestern, Northeastern, NYU, University of Pennsylvania, Santa Clara, Stanford, Suffolk, University of California-LA (UCLA), University of California-Hastings, University of California-Davis, University of Southern California (USC), University of San Francisco, University of Virginia, Yale.
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, 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.