A real big deal in Silicon Valley, this techy firm with a passion for startups is a dream for millennials and Gen Z alike.
Startup. IPO. Maturity. These are the ‘three circles’ that Wilson Sonsini has aimed to guide countless tech companies through, representing these potential success stories from their foundations all the way up to becoming billion-dollar giants. Of course, not every bright idea can become the next Netflix or TikTok, but the firm has been an active part in Silicon Valley's technology ecosystem for six decades now and has nurtured more than a few big names in that time. “I wanted the opportunity to work with emerging companies,” a junior associate told us. “I was drawn to the firm’s reputation in startup and venture capital law.” Couple that with “a premier clientele in the tech industry” (Apple, Google and Twitter all called on the firm at one point) and you’ve got a very appealing prospect.
Wilson Sonsini has grown in tandem with Silicon Valley and now operates from 11 US offices and five overseas. While Chambers USAgrants the firm some plaudits on the East Coast (notably a strong antitrust ranking in DC), the West is still very much Wilson’s strong point – it scores top marks in California for capital markets, securities litigation and M&A alongside strong rankings in life sciences and venture capital. Add a nationwide top spot for startups and emerging companies work and you’ve got a firm to be reckoned with.
“The Silicon Valley chilled culture radiates throughout all the firm’s offices.”
Juniors were keen to add that WS hasn’t forgotten its roots: “The Silicon Valley chilled culture radiates throughout all the firm’s offices.” You’ll find most of the firm’s juniors in its Palo Alto base – the rest are dotted across America in the Austin, Boston, Delaware, DC, Los Angeles, New York, San Diego, San Francisco and Seattle offices.
Corporate and litigation are the two highest-recruiting practice groups, followed by IP (patents and innovations) and the tech transactions team. For corporate and life sciences juniors in Palo Alto and San Francisco, the early years are driven by ‘Launch’: a program where newbies try out work from multiple practices. Over in DC, juniors gather weekly to discuss work allocation: “We give updates on what we’re staffed on and what our availability is like. From there you can jump on matters that interest you.” Sources in New York, Austin and Los Angeles all followed a similar systemto fill their schedules – instead of relying on a formal staffing list, most received assignments from one partner. An LA associate explained: “I work directly with a junior partner and a member of counsel; I then get staffed on a deal and the work gets funneled down.” Cross-office work is fairly common, this same source regularly corresponding with “Palo Alto, DC and New York.”
“I enjoy the renewable energy deals we work on and the value they add to this planet's sustainable future.”
Wilson Sonsini’scorporateteam represents clients ranging from entrepreneurial startups to multibillion-dollar corporations; life sciences, tech, media and entertainment, retail and financial services businesses are all on the books. Juniors can draw work from three buckets: M&A, regulatory compliance and venture capital. “How much work you get from each subgroup depends on your interest,” interviewees explained. Venture capital came with easy moments to shine: “Junior roles are primarily based off of four main documents it's easy to get to grips with.” Sources on VC deals also got to “interact with clients, shift through data rooms and create closing volumes.” M&A matters can be comparatively “bespoke and unique,” presenting different challenges.
One of the most popular subspaces in transactional was the energy and infrastructure practice. Sources represented banks funding renewable projects as large as “$800 million solar works.” One explained their obvious enthusiasm: “I enjoy the renewable energy deals we work on and the value they add to this planet's sustainable future.” Don’t think you can carve a full career as an eco-warrior: capital markets remains a busy area and our sources found it a “time suck” away from other work types. Most were nevertheless happy with their client contact levels and opportunities for professional development. “My career needs are very well received,” one told us. “I’ve been quite surprised by the level of responsibility I’ve had.”
Corporate clients: ArmaGen, NantHealth, CloudSimple. Advised Middle East ride-hailing service Careem in its $3.1 billion acquisition by Uber.
Juniors practicing in litigationfilled their plates with IP, securities and white-collar investigations. The distinct and exciting-sounding Internet Strategy and Litigation group pairs disputes with matters related to IP, social media, privacy, online advertisement and government regulation. Litigators at Wilson Sonsini represent both plaintiffs and defendants in cases spanning fraud, unfair competition, false advertising and interference with economic relationships.
“I enjoy the variety and the opportunity to work directly with clients.”
“Employee claims, client requests and M&A-driven work” are all part of the package in employment litigation. “I enjoy the variety and the opportunity to work directly with clients,” a source said. Much of the work here drifts across from the corporate practice; in such instances, juniors get to draft documents including offer and demand letters, motions to dismiss and briefs. There’s also drafting to do for IP clients, though we heard that “starting out a lot of the work can be admin-based, keeping on top of deadlines and emails.” That’s not the whole picture: work for pharmaceutical clients includes “filing drug applications whenever they create a new product.”
Litigation clients: Google, TikTok, Impossible Foods. Obtained a dismissal of a consumer class action against Walgreens, alleging misleading statements about the data capacity of tech products.
“There is a great culture of individuality – both in terms of letting people shape their careers and express themselves in their work,” sources said. WS’ Education Committee supervises training and development including workshops, academies, seminars and online classes. They’re packaged up neatly into the 100, 200 and 300 programs for junior, midlevel and senior associates respectively; juniors that are keeping it 100 get a general orientation to the firm, along with classes on basic subjects like “how to do legal research, drafting memos and working cost-efficiently.”
“There is a great culture of individuality – both in terms of letting people shape their careers and express themselves in their work.”
Higher-level training provides in-depth explanations of transaction and case documents, as well as helping with soft skills like “networking and building client relationships.” The firm records sessions so associates can keep up with them when they find a free moment; WS also encourages associates to travel to other offices to enrich their careers, though of course put this on hold during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. “There’s genuine interest in associates' wellbeing and growth,” we heard. Taken as a whole, survey respondents were more likely to be looking outside the firm for future roles than they were at partnership.
Confirming that “the Cali origins of the firm hold a lot of weight when it comes to the culture,” many interviewees described a “chilled” and “casual” atmosphere. That was even true in New York, where we heard “people come to the office, get what they need to do done and leave – there is no unnecessary pressure or stress.” Austin insiders appreciated the fluid approach to working: "It's not the kind of office where people come in at 8am sharp. We’re a lot more fluid.” As for DC, juniors were happy to say “partners are very accessible – I can walk into their offices at any time and ask a question. We have a culture of teaching here.” Fittingly enough for a firm with a strong startup practice, “there is a lot of encouragement to create your own projects,” whether it’s building a work stream, a tech innovation or something more people-oriented.
"There is a lot of encouragement to create your own projects."
“Wilson Sonsini is selective in its hiring, which may lead to more work, but that’s preferable to needing to work with people who aren’t nice or don’t mesh well with the team dynamic.” A source in Los Angeles described their workplace as “like groups of friends sitting around the office working together, there’s no nervousness.” Before COVID-19 crashed the party, attorneys often got together for karaoke, dinners, happy hours, taco tasting and beer nights; a move to remote socializing has prompted virtual cheese tastings, escape rooms, coffee hours and painting classes. Some suggested working from Palo Alto comes with less “fun for younger associates,” chalking this up to the character of the city itself rather than the firm’s efforts.
Hours, Compensation & Pro Bono
Billable hours: 1,950 target
California tends to set the day across WS’ network, so East Coast offices don’t usually start flat out. Attorneys in New York, DC and Boston often begin their days later to sync up with West Coast colleagues. There’s a “pretty good work/life balance” according to Los Angeles insiders, though some in other offices found themselves working from early morning to early-early the next morning. That’s partly thanks to the firm’s international outlook: “We work across several time zones and you have to be up when the client is. I’ll often get up at 4am to answer client calls.” While some grumbled, others suggested longer hours come with the law firm territory. “You’re paid a lot of money to be available a lot of the time and your life is inevitably going to be work-centric.” The firm informed us that the average number of billable hours per associate in 2020 was 1,760.
“You’re paid a lot of money to be available a lot of the time.”
The billing target includes 100 hours of firm citizenship (committee work or interviewing associates), 50 hours of shadowing, and unlimited pro bono hours. As for the pay, associates agreed they’re compensated fairly with generous bonuses at the end of the year. WS also runs a venture capital fund which invests small stakes into clients – when the company gets sold or goes public, the profit’s shared among everyone at the firm based on year group.
“I bill a couple of hundred hours of pro bono every year,” a junior happily told us. “It’s really encouraged.” Associates can spend their time on helping female empowerment charities, challenging corruption in Brazil, immigration matters, nonprofit solar energy and death penalty cases. One interviewee working on a pro bono employment case gave us the rundown on their experience: “The client had an employee who sued for discrimination and we’ve been working to dismiss their complaint.”
Pro bono hours
- For all (US) attorneys: 57,744
- Average per (US) attorney: 62.4
Diversity & Inclusion
Wilson Sonsini’s most recent summer associate class was made up of around 50% women, 27% racially diverse and 12% LGBTQ+ candidates – much more progressive figures than the firm as a whole, which suffers from typical BigLaw shortcomings. Sources from across the US praised the firm for its “hard stance on diversity” and network of affinity groups for African-American, Asian-American, Latinx and LGBTQ+ attorneys (there’s also an excitingly named Women’s Initiative Task Force). Associates felt encouraged to get involved and reckoned “the firm is trying its best to be inclusive of all people.” Los Angeles came in for particular praise thanks to its gender diversity: “When I look around the firm I see a lot of women in leadership.”
“The firm is trying its best to be inclusive of all people.”
The firm also has a culture committee that pushes for mental wellness, “meeting regularly to discuss how the firm is progressing. Members then give us regular updates.” Since the onset of COVID-19, interviewees felt Wilson Sonsini has stepped up to the plate on the mental health front, doling out a $50 gym credit and an extra five mental health days (accounted for in billables calculations). Some shortcomings remained – one junior perceived an “implicit bias against parents. There is sometimes a lack of understanding surrounding the challenges parents face, particularly during the pandemic.” Our sources were divided on whether WS has done enough to make progression viable for attorneys with kids.
Strategy & Future
Clearly unafraid to shake things up, the firm hopped on board the outsourcing trend in 2020 and partnered with legal ‘solutions’ outfit Epiq to run its office services in Palo Alto, Boston, Los Angeles, New York, San Diego and DC. Tech support and admin is part of the package; Wilson Sonsini already boasted a wholly-owned legal tech subsidiary that’s curated a privacy compliance tool. “The firm is making a big effort to improve its technology,” we heard. Some savvy juniors told us they’d “automated some processes for drafting,” feeling encouraged to “take the initiative on those kinds of projects.” Tech you out!
The first stage: recruitment on and off campus
OCI applicants interviewed: 683
Interviewees outside OCI: 179
Given Wilson Sonsini’s strategic focus, it’ll come as no surprise that hiring partners look for those with “a strong desire to work with technology, life sciences and other growth companies.” The firm recruits from “the leading law schools” as well as through resume drops. Interviews are conducted by partners who are on the hiring committee or are alumni of the school. A hiring partner adds: “Given our extensive work for technology, life sciences, renewable energy, and other growth companies at all stages of development, we are particularly interested in candidates who want to work for those companies. We are also interested in candidates who have the requisite scientific expertise for one of our intellectual property practices.” To prepare, our hiring partner source recommends candidates “know which practices and offices are hiring through the summer program. Read the bio of the attorney you are meeting on campus in advance.”
Top tips for this stage:
"Be prepared to explain why you are interested in our firm, in working with our innovative and distinctive client base, and ideally in one or more of our practices." – a Wilson Sonsini hiring partner.
Applicants invited to second stage interview: 439
During callbacks, interviewees will find themselves in six one-on-one interviews either before or after a lunch with two attorneys. Typically, interviews last 30 minutes, while lunch interviews last around 90. Our virtual format is slightly different with an average of five one-on-one interviews with a break. At this stage, interviewers “tend to focus on questions that relate to past experience and demonstrated behaviors. We ask behavioral-based questions in an effort to understand the way candidates think and react to situations that frequently occur in the course of cases, deals, and other matters.” Callback interviewers tend to leave time for candidates to ask questions about the interviewer’s practice, experience at the firm, and other topics, so be prepared with good questions.
Top tips for this stage:
"Be yourself. We look for candidates who are genuine about their interests and desires. We like to see passion and enthusiasm about working at our firm and show that you have a solid understanding of what we do and the clients we serve."– a Wilson Sonsini hiring partner.
Our hiring partner source tell us that Wilson’s summer program “incorporates many of the things important to our culture, including challenging and varied assignments, direct working relationships with our innovative clients, meeting a wide range of attorneys, and exciting social activities.” There’s no formal rotation process, and it’s on summer associates to choose which area they work in. Our source adds: “All summer associates are invited to Palo Alto to participate in a week-long Summer Associate Academy that takes place early in the summer. The Academy includes learning sessions, fun activities, and networking opportunities.” To unwind afterwards, summers get to enjoy “a relaxing retreat where summer associates spend time bonding as a class at destinations like Santa Cruz, Napa, and the Monterey Bay.” To make the most of the program, our source advises candidates to “get to know the attorneys, the client base, and the work. We give summer associates real work for innovative companies – it’s a great opportunity!” While most summers return to the same practice area they focused on during their summer, those who want to work in a different area have their requests “reviewed and considered on a case-by-case basis.”
Top tips for this stage:
"Work hard, show the desire to learn and have a great attitude. Get to know the attorneys, the client base, and the work. We give summer associates real work for innovative companies – it’s a great opportunity!" – a Wilson Sonsini hiring partner.
"Work hard during law school and get involved on campus. Research our firm’s practices and clients, and get to know our attorneys when they visit campus for presentations, receptions and other events." – a Wilson Sonsini hiring partner.
Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati
650 Page Mill Road,
- Head Office: Palo Alto, CA
- Number of domestic offices: 11
- Number of international offices: 5
- Worldwide revenue: $1.13 billion
- Partners (US): 254
- Associates (US): 583
- Main recruitment contact: Elizabeth Pond (firstname.lastname@example.org)
- Hiring partners: Wendy Devine, Andrew Hoffman, John McGaraghan, Kathleen Rothman, Joshua Soven
- Diversity officer: Chris Boyd
- Recruitment details
- Entry-level associates starting in 2021: 77
- Clerking policy: Yes
- Summers joining/anticipated 2021: 2Ls: 106
- Summers joining/anticipated 2021 split by office: Austin: 2, Boston: 11, Los Angeles: 2, London: 1, New York: 6, Palo Alto: 38, San Diego: 6, San Francisco: 20, Seattle: 5, Washington, DC: 12, Wilmington: 3
- 2Ls: $3,654 per week
- Split summers offered? On a case-by-case basis
- Can summers spend time in an overseas office? On a case-by-case basis
Main areas of work
Recruitment outside OCIs: Candidates are welcome to apply directly by sending their materials (cover letter, resume and law school transcript) to email@example.com or applying via www.wsgr.com/attorneyrecruiting
Summer associate profile: We look for candidates who are enthusiastic about working at our firm and for our client base, and have a solid understanding of what we do and the practices we have. Given our extensive work for technology, life sciences, renewable energy, and other growth companies at all stages of development, we are particularly interested in candidates who want to work for those companies. We are also interested in candidates who have the requisite scientific expertise for one of our IP practices. Depending on the experience, we typically prefer candidates with prior work experience. Given our particular client base and entrepreneurial orientation, work experience for technology, life sciences, renewable energy, or other growth companies is particularly valuable, as is experience starting a company or student organization. We also value experience in management consulting, accounting, paralegal roles and similar types of backgrounds.
Summer associate components: Our summer program offers law students an opportunity to observe and participate in the work of the leading provider of legal services to technology, life sciences, and other growth enterprises worldwide. The summer period at our firm incorporates many of the things important to our culture: challenging and varied assignments, direct working relationships with our innovative clients, meeting a wide range of attorneys, and exciting social activities that take advantage of our locations in technology centers around the country.
This Firm's Rankings in
USA Guide, 2021
- Capital Markets: Debt & Equity (Band 1)
- Intellectual Property: Patent Litigation (Band 4)
- Intellectual Property: Trademark, Copyright & Trade Secrets (Band 3)
- Life Sciences (Band 2)
- Litigation: Securities (Band 1)
- Technology: Transactions (Band 2)
- Venture Capital (Band 2)
- Tax (Band 4)
California: San Diego
- Corporate/M&A (Band 1)
California: San Francisco, Silicon Valley & Surro
- Corporate/M&A: The Elite (Band 2)
- Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation (Band 2)
- Chancery (Band 3)
District of Columbia
- Antitrust (Band 2)
- Antitrust (Band 2)
- Technology: Corporate & Commercial (Band 3)
Texas: Austin & Surrounds
- Corporate/M&A (Band 2)
USA - Nationwide
- Antitrust (Band 2)
- Antitrust: Cartel (Band 2)
- Capital Markets: Equity: Issuer Counsel (Band 2)
- Corporate/M&A: Highly Regarded (Band 2)
- International Trade: CFIUS Experts (Band 4)
- International Trade: Export Controls & Economic Sanctions (Band 3)
- Life Sciences (Band 3)
- Privacy & Data Security: The Elite (Band 3)
- Projects: Renewables & Alternative Energy (Band 4)
- Securities: Litigation (Band 4)
- Startups & Emerging Companies (Band 1)
- Corporate/M&A (Band 2)
- Intellectual Property (Band 4)