Those with a genuine passion for the law should feel right at home at this “academic” firm, which is famous for its government work and influential commitment to pro bono.
THIS elite firm comes with dominant flavors from both DC and Boston, thanks to a 2004 merger that united top practices in the capital and Beantown. The resulting entity, WilmerHale, excels in the areas associated with these major markets – a point that wasn't lost on our shrewd interviewees. Those who targeted the firm in Boston did so because “Wilmer is strong in technology and life sciences,” while those who sought it out in DC were drawn to its standing in litigation and government-related work: “I knew I wanted to work in government at some point. I attended a summer lunch where people with fascinating careers in the government came to speak, and many had worked at WilmerHale. I recognized that Wilmer was unique in that people worked at the firm, went into government and then came back.” Among the ranks of WilmerHale's famous alumni is Robert Mueller – a name known across the nation for his role investigating Russia's alleged interference with the 2016 presidential election.
In Chambers USA, WilmerHale's government work picks up high praise in the areas of congressional investigations and merger approvals. Elsewhere, top-ranked strengths nationwide include antitrust; appellate law; financial services regulation; IP; life sciences and securities regulation. Accolades are also won in the other domestic markets WilmerHale operates in – LA, Palo Alto, Denver and New York. But our interviewees typically wanted more than just stellar fee-earning work, as this source explained: “I was only looking at firms with a strong focus and genuine dedication to public interest issues, and WilmerHale has lived up to my expectations in that regard.”
You know pro bono's a big deal at a firm when one of its legacy partners authored Justice and the Poor – the influential book that kickstarted efforts to secure equal justice across the US in the early 20th century. As one junior affirmed: “A big reason why I ended up coming back to Wilmer after my clerkship was because of its commitment to pro bono.” We heard of an unofficial aim for associates to have 100 hours of pro bono work under their belt each year, against 1,900 hours of fee-earning work. However, sources agreed that “there's no discouragement from doing more,” and technically an unlimited amount can count toward the annual billing target (see below) – many of our interviewees had billed in excess of 200 hours.
Associates need only to reach out to the firm's pro bono coordinators – who email out opportunities daily – to secure themselves assignments. “It's not just first come, first served,” interviewees clarified. “If everyone wants to do an appellate brief, for example, then they try and ensure that everyone has a chance to do so.” On top of a whole host of clemency projects, family law matters and veterans' work, sources also mentioned the relatively recent introduction of an internal civic engagement initiative: “It's a firm-wide effort to discuss issues of public interest within the firm, and there have been some pro bono matters that have emerged out of those discussions – we were able to share information quickly about Trump's travel ban, for example.”
Pro bono hours
- For all US attorneys: 109,628.9
- Average per US attorneys: 118.3
WilmerHale's litigation/controversy department snaps up the majority of new starters (just over 60%); a fifth join the firm's transactional arm, while the rest are divided between the regulatory & government affairs; IP; and securities groups. All departments have assignment coordinators, but the extent to which they control workflow depends on the practice and location. In the DC-based litigation group, for instance, “we have a happy medium between the coordinator formally handing out assignments and a free-market system that allows you to get work through your own network. It's a pretty decent balance, and it's nice to know that for the most part you can be proactive about managing what you work on.” In the transactional wing of the Boston office, however, “all assignments go through the practice coordinator. They do a good job of making sure people are adequately staffed, and they're very receptive if you say you don't have the bandwidth to take on more assignments – they're looking out for you.”
“...taking international trips to attend interviews.”
Most junior litigators remain generalists until their fourth year, when they begin to home in on a more specific practice area. However, even “a lot of partners remain pretty broad across the spectrum.” For our interviewees, this spectrum often covered IP, appellate and investigation matters. “I've had full responsibility for the content of amicus briefs,” one source told us, “from writing and submitting the brief to making the revisions and suggesting further avenues for research.” Another source had enjoyed playing “detective” on investigation cases, and found themselves “drafting proposals, running productions” and even “taking international trips to attend interviews.” By the third year most juniors will have racked up some decent experience in the core litigator competencies. As one third year explained: “I've done the first drafts, revisions and editing of two summary judgment motions; and the same for at least eight motions to dismiss. As far as discovery goes, I've second-chaired the defense of four depositions.”
WilmerHale's transactional department comprises corporate; tax; real estate; and bankruptcy & financial restructuring groups. Most of its juniors had joined the corporate group, and sources here revealed that they also start out broad. “We deal with everything from emerging companies (which involves incorporating and setting them up, as well as financings) to large public companies that are undergoing IPOs or mergers and acquisitions.” On the emerging company side, juniors might be representing “the founder who's straight out of grad school.” These venture capital-type deals mean that “you work directly with the partners and the client from day one – at this stage in my career I'm doing the whole financing, which involves getting the documents from the other side, marking them up, liaising with the investors and drafting the primary financing agreements.” On larger M&A deals, ajunior's role tends to skew more toward project management, which sees them handling diligence and “being the first point of contact for the deal. They really rely on junior associates to know the ins and outs of the deal and to keep everyone on track.”
Hours & Compensation
Thoughts on how achievable WilmerHale's 2,000-hour billable target is varied by practice group. In general, “it's easier to hit your hours in litigation as you have a more consistent lifestyle (unless you're going to trial!),” while in corporate “things can be very up and down – if you have a slow month, it can be hard to bring those hours back up.” Fortunately, if juniors don't hit the target “you don't get into trouble, but you won't have what you need to get a full Cravath bonus.” There's also a “discretionary amount” paid on top of the market-rate bonus if juniors get good feedback: “There are a set of categories that they say they evaluate you on at the end of the year. I still think it boils down to the number of hours you work, but they leave room for things like community and client service, efficiency, teamwork, and participation in firm life.”
In corporate it's “hard to give an average but ten-ish hours in the office is fairly common, as is a small amount of work at the weekend – usually just an hour or so.” When deals took off, sources had worked “14 hours a day for a week; there was a period this fall when I was working every weekend. It really depends on what's going on – there's no consistency.” Although generally more stable, the hours in litigation can also peak around trials: “There are times where I haven't worked after 7pm or weekends, and times when I'm doing 13 to 14 hours a day.” While these hours are fairly typical for BigLaw, insiders felt that they had a better work-life balance than they would have elsewhere.
“Nerdy” was a word that frequently cropped up during discussions of WilmerHale's vibe. Our interviewees put this down to associates' “academic” approach to work: “Everyone is very open to debate and analytical about how to construct certain arguments or even a sentence. We don't just view law as a practice but as an ongoing conversation about ideas.” But despite a high concentration of “individuals with highly impressive credentials,” sources simultaneously felt that WilmerHale is a place of “modesty,” with one summarizing: “Nobody is cocky here, and nobody takes credit for the work! Instead, my colleagues are generous when it comes to giving everyone credit.”
“We don't just view law as a practice but as an ongoing conversation about ideas.”
However, juniors did also elaborate on some perceived differences between groups. Corporate sources labeled their colleagues in litigation as “the nerdier group” anddescribedthemselves as “the cooler team.” Similarly, one associate in the capital’s regulatory team told us their “conversations were more likely to be about The Bachelor and sports rather than a law review article.” (We were glad to hear that even top-notch lawyers like to indulge in trashy TV as well.) Insiders were also keen to emphasize that there's nothing “bro-ish or frat-like” about the atmosphere at WilmerHale, although there's a nice social life to be enjoyed if it's wanted: “You don't have to attend social events if you don't want to! But this is the kind of place where people walk down the halls and say hello, and also keep their doors open, so there's a free exchange of conversation. Our weekly happy hours are therefore well attended, and we also have popular monthly attorney lunches.”
While WilmerHale has no official HQ, the Boston and DC offices informally serve as joint 'heads' of the firm. Together, these offices housed almost 60% of the second and third-year juniors on our list. “The Boston office is based in a gorgeous building with spectacular views of the harbor!” sources gushed, while also highlighting the perks of individual offices from the get-go. Our DC-based interviewees revealed: “We're moving in five years' time,” but for now had a very clearly defined set of pros to keep them happy: “A good location that's right next to the metro, free coffee, a ping pong table, and a small but decent gym that's never busy.” Around a quarter of our sample were based in the New York office, which was described as “the third power center in the network, as it's the next biggest and the fastest growing. It's an office that lures in candidates who want a more DC-type legal practice but in a New York setting, with all of its great food and art.” The rest of WilmerHale's juniors were split between its LA, Palo Alto and Denver offices.Overseas, WilmerHale has established bases in Beijing, Berlin, Brussels, Frankfurt and London.
Training & Development
Associates described training at Wilmer as “very extensive.” After a few days of “basic orientation on HR matters and how to bill time,” newbies move swiftly on to their practice-specific sessions. On the transactional side there's 'Corporate University,' which hosts weekly trainings for the first six months. “It takes us through the life-cycle of a company, and goes over what we should do for startups, IPOs and mergers, as well as how to do diligence and work with certain financial documents.” Litigators also get a burst of “introductory contested matters training,” followed by sessions across their first four months on the likes of writing and discovery. Overall juniors felt that “they get it right. You do get a lot early on, and it can be like drinking from a fire hose, but the advantage is that you already know a whole universe of things that you could be expected to do.”
Boston juniors felt their office wasn't “particularly diverse,” but did note that WilmerHale still fares better “when compared against this legal market more generally. Boston has a very homogeneous legal environment and has always struggled with race. For women and LGBTQ lawyers it's better.” Those in DC, meanwhile, said that their base “does feel diverse: I qualify as a diverse associate and we have regular roundtable discussion groups; there's a diversity holiday party; and I get emails every week detailing conferences I could attend.”
“We have brought those issues to the attention of partners.”
The firm's Women's Leadership Initiative (WLI) was repeatedly mentioned, and is broken down into office-specific groups. “The WLI in LA is the most active by far,” female juniors here beamed. “We have monthly meetings and talk about different topics in the workplace and ideas for addressing certain issues. We have brought those issues to the attention of partners, and the fact that we're having these discussions is in itself a good thing.”
Strategy & Future
“We're doing very well,” confident sources reported, highlighting the firm's most recent office opening in Denver in 2016, “which demonstrated a commitment to our client base.” Others also felt that WilmerHale was “well positioned” for the future: “Overall our goal is growth but at the same time we want to preserve the high-end work that we do. We'll be focusing on our strengths, and on the practice areas we do well in.”
“We covered a broad scope of recruitment activities for our 2018 program,” hiring partner Jonathan Paikin tell us. “This year we visited 25 different law schools and career fairs. Most are top-tier schools in the US, but we also look at the top schools that are geographically local to our offices. We interviewed 1,833 students on campus and we ended up with a summer class of 87 associates that came from 26 different law schools.” The firm's recent push to improve diversity has paid off, as Paikin points out: “In our 2018 summer program 60% of the class are women; 37% self-identify as students of color; and 8% have self-identified as LGBT.”
When it comes to the firm's OCI and callback interviews, current Wilmer associates reassured us that they're “really not intimidating,” adding that “they seem to put a premium on people that are kind and are easy to talk to. Find something you're interested in and be ready to talk about it,” they advised. In terms of experience, Paikin points out that “people who have experience in government, experience with science issues for our IP practice, and experience in finance– such as that gained in a consulting firm or accounting firm – are the ones who stand out.” However, he also emphasizes that “top grades and relevant work experience aren't the only things we look at, as we recognize that there will be people coming straight through from undergrad.” Callbacks are held in the each of the firm's offices and typically involve candidates meeting a mix of four to six senior partners and counsel. Candidates are also typically taken out for a lunch or coffee with two junior lawyers “who we also collect input from,” Paikin tells us. “I really enjoyed the callbacks – I just clicked with everyone,” one junior recollected,reiterating that “they are looking for people they like as much as they are looking for people who are smart.”
The firm's ten-week summer program is kept “deliberately small to ensure that summers get real hands-on experience and really understand what it's like to work at the firm,” Paikin emphasizes. “They let you sample a variety of cases from different practice areas, but if you're set on a particular practice area, you can just ask for work exclusively in that area too,” juniors went on to explain. The summer also comes with “an extensive training program built in. Every week we try to ensure there are at least one or two sessions held,” Paikin explains, which cover things such as legal writing and negotiating skills. Fortunately, there's plenty of time for students to let their hair down too, as Paikin happily reports: “We have a robust social program as well.” Associates told of embarking on segway tours around DC, navigating their way out of escape rooms, and, of course, savouring “plenty of happy hours.”
Interview with co-managing partner Susan Murley
Chambers Associate: How has the firm performed over the last year? Have any practice areas been particularly strong?
Susan Murley: The firm has performed terrifically in 2017 – we are very happy. Our revenues increased to $1.4 billion, so on the financial front we are in a very strong position moving forward. Many of our practice areas flourished, but we had a particularly strong year in litigation, as well as in our arbitration and investigations groups. We always like it when we record a strong performance across the firm, and we feel that all of our lawyers are currently getting great experiences.
CA: What objectives do you have for the firm over the next five years?
SM: Our goal is to maintain our pre-eminence in certain practice areas, and we will do that by building upon our areas of strength within the firm. Principally, this involves us continuing to hire, train and retain great lawyers by providing them with the best possible working environment. Along those lines diversity is crucial to us, and we believe that teams comprising people with the most diverse backgrounds and experiences will enable us to develop the most creative and effective solutions for our clients.
CA: What relationship does the firm have with the government?
SM: We do have, as a firm, a very long history when it comes to promoting both pro bono and public service work. Both play very large roles in the firm and we regularly have members of our community going into government and then returning to the firm after a period of time. That dynamic creates tremendous experiences for our lawyers, and it equips them with a set of skills that really can't be matched by any other firm. Whenever there is a change in the presidency it creates enormous opportunities because of the shifts it brings about in the regulatory environment. The resulting uncertainty is what brings business to the firm.
CA: What opportunities do technological developments bring to the firm?
SM: Technology, and the whole industry surrounding it, is a big area of focus for the firm. All of our practices have a large focus on technology-related companies. We represent a spectrum of clients ranging from two people in their garage developing the next generation of tech all the way up to the biggest tech companies in the world. We cater to all of their transactional, litigation and regulatory needs.
With regards to tech itself, we are always looking at advancements in tech and how best to incorporate those developments into the firm. For example, we have been focusing on making remote working easier for us all, as well as looking at how tech can help us understand how to better manage the relationships with our clients. Specifically, our clients increasingly want to understand how much they should budget for a matter. We have therefore been developing a set of tools to keep our clients informed on how much things are going to cost – that set of tools is extraordinarily valuable to us in managing our client relationships.
In addition, our discovery lawyers, based in Dayton Ohio, serve as our dedicated team that tackles our investigations and doc review work. They are able to make use of state of the art tools that we have developed to review documents in the most effective and efficient way possible, cutting down the time any one lawyer spends on doc review.
CA: What do you regard as the greatest challenge facing the legal industry?
SM: The greatest challenge is that the amount of money spent on outside legal services since the recession has not recovered from its pre-recession levels. The greatest challenge is therefore getting a bigger piece of what is for all intents and purposes a stagnant pie. Law firms, in my view, have to find where they are at the top of their game, find their niche and take more of the market share there. That's not to say that there are not great opportunities for great legal work; the legal issues facing clients are staggering, but law firms have to find their niche.
CA: Does that mean law firms will begin to specialize more? SM: They are going to in the areas where there is a need for their services and where we as outsourced lawyers can bring value – not in areas where clients can keep it in-house. It's certainly going to be hard in this time of a stagnant legal market to be all things to all people – it's simply not cost effective.
60 State Street,
1875 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW,
- Head offices: Boston, MA and Washington, DC
- Number of domestic offices: 7
- Number of international offices: 5
- Worldwide revenue: $1,137,000,000
- Partners (US): 249
- Associates (US): 538
- Main recruitment contacts:
- Beth Miller (firmwide)
- Karen Rameika (Boston)
- Terri Janezeck (Denver and Los Angeles)
- Nancy Gray (New York)
- Nancy Lam (Palo Alto)
- Melissa Grossman (Washington, DC)
- Hiring partners:
- Mark Ford (Boston)
- Natalie Hanlon Leh & Andy Spielman (Denver)
- Randall Lee (Los Angeles)
- Erin Sloane & Alan Schoenfeld (New York)
- Mark Flanagan (Palo Alto)
- Jonathan Paikin (Washington, DC)
- Diversity officer: Nimesh Patel
- Recruitment details
- Entry-level associates starting in 2018: 75
- Clerking policy: Yes
- Summers joining/anticipated 2018:
- 1Ls: 3, 2Ls: 85, SEOs: 4
- Summers joining/anticipated 2018 split by office:
- Boston: 23, Denver: 4, LA: 4, NY: 23, Palo Alto: 7, Washington DC: 27
- Summer salary 2018:
- 1Ls: $3,500/week
- 2Ls: $3,500/week
- Split summers offered? Yes
- Can summers spend time in overseas office? Yes
Main areas of work
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 Colorado-Boulder, University of Denver, University of Southern California (USC), University of Texas, University of Virginia, Yale.
Recruitment outside OCIs:
Bay Area Diversity Career Fair, Boston Lawyers Group Diversity Job Fair, BU/BC Job Fair, Harvard Law School BLSA Job Fair, Lavender Law, Loyola Patent Law Program, Rocky Mountain Diversity Legal Career Fair.
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.
This Firm's Rankings in
Chambers USA Guide 2017
- Intellectual Property (Band 3)
- Venture Capital Recognised Practitioner
- Intellectual Property (Band 3)
District of Columbia
- Antitrust (Band 4)
- Bankruptcy/Restructuring (Band 2)
- Corporate/M&A & Private Equity (Band 3)
- Intellectual Property: Litigation (Band 2)
- Intellectual Property: Patent Prosecution (Band 2)
- Litigation: General Commercial (Band 2)
- Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations (Band 2)
- Media & Entertainment (Band 3)
- Antitrust (Band 2)
- Banking & Finance (Band 3)
- Bankruptcy/Restructuring (Band 3)
- Corporate/M&A (Band 1)
- Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation (Band 2)
- Intellectual Property (Band 1)
- Litigation: General Commercial (Band 1)
- Private Equity: Venture Capital Investment (Band 2)
- Real Estate (Band 2)
- Tax (Band 2)
- Technology (Band 2)
- Bankruptcy/Restructuring (Band 5)
- Intellectual Property: Patent (Band 2)
- Litigation: General Commercial: Highly Regarded (Band 1)
- Litigation: Securities (Band 3)
- Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations (Band 2)
USA - Nationwide
- Antitrust (Band 3)
- Antitrust: Cartel (Band 1)
- Appellate Law (Band 1)
- Capital Markets: Derivatives Recognised Practitioner
- Corporate Crime & Investigations (Band 2)
- FCPA (Band 2)
- Financial Services Regulation: Banking (Compliance) (Band 4)
- Financial Services Regulation: Banking (Enforcement & Investigations) (Band 3)
- Financial Services Regulation: Broker Dealer (Compliance & Enforcement) (Band 1)
- Financial Services Regulation: Consumer Finance (Compliance & Litigation) (Band 3)
- Government: Government Relations (Band 2)
- Intellectual Property (Band 1)
- International Arbitration (Band 3)
- International Trade: CFIUS Experts (Band 2)
- International Trade: Export Controls & Economic Sanctions (Band 4)
- International Trade: Intellectual Property (Section 337) (Band 3)
- International Trade: Trade Remedies & Trade Policy (Band 2)
- Life Sciences (Band 1)
- Native American Law (Band 3)
- Privacy & Data Security (Band 3)
- Securities: Litigation (Band 4)
- Securities: Regulation (Band 1)
- Startups & Emerging Companies (Band 3)