As a Silicon Valley veteran, this enterprising firm is looking for those who share its passion for technology, life sciences and emerging growth clients.
“WILSON is one of the marquee names in this market,” associates in the firm's Palo Alto HQ proudly proclaimed. After planting its flag in Silicon Valley in 1961 – back when 'Silicon Valley' was still a newish nickname for the rising tech hub – Wilson immediately started working for the hippest startups and companies emerging in the area. “There weren't a ton of large law firms here at that time, and Wilson quickly established itself as a prominent name in the technology space,” a junior added.Today Wilson counts the likes of Google, Netflix, Tesla, Twitter and pharma company Mylan among its extensive client roster, and this collection of names proved very alluring for our sources: “It was the technology slant that drew me. It's an exciting firm with interesting work and clients that are always coming up with new ideas,” said one, while another told us that “the banner headline here is the chance to work with both startups and big-name tech clients.”
However, some of our interviewees found that “once I started here, I started working far more with life sciences clients, which turned out to be a welcome surprise.” Yes, together with emerging growth enterprises, life sciences completes Wilson's triumvirate of focuses; whether you join this firm as a deal-doer or a litigator, you can expect your work to be filtered through these specialized lenses. “The tie that binds all the lawyers here is the affinity for representing the kind of companies we do,” says managing partner Douglas Clark, so those with an interest and/or background in any of the above areas are very much encouraged to seek this firm out. Around 60% of Wilson's revenue comes from its corporate work, while the remaining 40% is gathered from the efforts of its litigation, IP and antitrust lawyers. Chambers USA especially rates Wilson's work in California, where it picks up top rankings for its M&A, venture capital, IT & outsourcing, capital markets and contentious securities expertise. It also picks up nods in DC, New York, Texas and Washington, and is considered a nationwide leader when it comes to startups and emerging companies.
Strategy & Future
“We're going to stick to our time-tested strategy, which is focusing on the representation of technology, life sciences and emerging growth enterprises,” says managing partner Douglas Clark. In terms of geographic growth, Clark explains that Wilson's “domestic footprint was rounded out with the opening of our Boston office two years ago, so we're not planning any further expansion in the US.”
“Innovation in the US drives the success of our practice.”
On the subject of broader political and economic developments, Clark tells us that “the drivers of our business are less affected by the current political landscape. Innovation in the US drives the success of our practice, and hopefully the government will remain somewhat out of that.”
Most of the firm's second and third-year juniors practiced within its corporate department, but the litigation group also picked up a significant number. A handful of juniors could be found honing their skills in Wilson's IP and antitrust practices.
Work allocation tends to be largely organic in most groups, although this differs slightly between teams and offices: corporate & securities juniors in the Bay Area, for example, participate in the firm's 'LAUNCH' program, which requires them to send through “a weekly availability report, where you fill out the matters you're working on and then rank availability from 0 to 100% – it keeps partners in the know.” The program is designed to ensure that these juniors are exposed to a wide variety of matters in their first and second years at the firm. Litigators, meanwhile, explained that “there's a bit more hand-holding when you first start, as juniors partners are assigned to keep track of your hours, but after that assignment becomes pretty informal – I like having the opportunity to say no to people if I'm too busy and yes to those I want to work with.”
Corporate juniors described working for three types of client:early stage startups; private companies that are not yet public; and “the Googles of the world” – large, publicly-traded companies. Sources explained that “in corporate you get to work with a mix of these, and sample a mix of M&A deals, venture capital financings, IPOs and corporate governance matters. Associates typically cover the whole lot.” Interviewees reflected that “a lot of the work revolves around document production, whether that's drafting financing documents or arranging filings.” On top of that, sources reported “running diligence on IPOs and large M&A deals” and assisting with “regular corporate governance matters for startup companies, like producing board consents and stockholder consents.” Working with startups gave juniors early client contact: “At the beginning the learning curve is steep – a lot of the time you can take the lead with startups, so you end up with a lot of responsibility quickly. If they don't have an in-house lawyer, you sort of act like their general counsel.”
Many junior litigators were based in the department's securities and commercial litigation subgroup, but others were also housed in its IP/patent litigation and privacy and data protection groups. Securities and commercial “primarily covers the regular commercial contract disputes, as well as class actions and SEC investigations on the securities side.” With the latter, juniors had been able to “prepare interviews and sit in on them; these matters are leanly staffed, so our responsibilities are accelerated.” Other tasks included researching and writing briefs, although sources said that juniors were more likely to start conducting depositions on the commercial side of the group's work. Those in the patent group told us that “the focus is on pharma patents, but we also do things in the hi-tech and electronics spaces too.” They added: “If you demonstrate competence they'll give you more responsibility. I've argued a motion to compel and a motion to dismiss, and I've also taken/defended ten depositions in total.”
Culture & Get Hired
“Wilson Sonsini was one of the first Silicon Valley firms, so it embodies the pioneering spirit of its location,” juniors reflected, before adding: “But because of that, it is also an older firm – older than some of the firms that have popped up in the area. It's like the cool grandpa – it has some tradition, but it still matches current clients' needs and culture.” The firm's roots have an undeniable influence on its culture, which juniors described as “informal, fast-paced and adaptive to what's going on in the primary sectors we service.” Many agreed that Wilson's an “entrepreneurial place that's work-focused but also very respectful of your own time. People understand that you have commitments outside of work, and they encourage a work-life balance to the extent that that is possible within BigLaw.”
“It has some tradition, but it still matches current clients' needs and culture.”
It's therefore not surprising to discover that Wilson's recruiters hunt for candidates with an entrepreneurial flair: “They like people to take the initiative and be proactive, whether that's reaching out to colleagues to gather information, or just understanding what else can be done to help the partner and the client during a matter.” The firm also tends to attract “people with an interest in the start-up world, and especially those who have already worked in tech or life sciences in some way.”
On the social side, juniors felt that the firm hits the right balance: “Wilson holds events and promotes camaraderie, but that's not the focus.” They noted that “the younger associates get together quite often,” but more seasoned attorneys tend to “have families so aren't looking to spend a ton of time socializing outside of work.” However, sources added that “colleagues across levels do get beers or coffees together, and people mix well at the holiday events.”
Wilson's Palo Alto, San Francisco and DC offices housed the majority of the firm's juniors. Its Boston, LA, New York, San Diego and Seattle offices also took on a few, while only one or two joined the firm's Austin and Wilmington bases. The Palo Alto “mothership” is “right in the center of the city, which makes for an easy commute! PA is great in that it has that quiet, suburban feel, but also all the amenities that you'd expect in a big city.” Life is pretty comfortable in the office too: “All attorneys get their own offices, and there's a pretty flexible office movement program which allows you to request a new office if you don't like where you sit. I got a nice big office for a decent amount of time!” Over in San Diego, excited associates told us: “We've just finished remodeling the entire building; all of the offices have been redone with frosted glass panes and new furniture. It feels much more hip and in line with our clients!” Overseas, Wilson has a presence inBeijing, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Brussels.
Training & Development
“There's a bunch of formal training when you first start, which helps you get to know the firm and its policies,” juniors reported, “and then that's followed by subject-specific training.” Corporate sources were especially pleased with their “monthly meetings, which provide us with training webinars live from Palo Alto; we also have weekly trainings every Friday morning in our office, where we all take turns to present on topics, all the way from paralegals up to the managing partner of the office.” Litigators were equally happy, and told us that “they give you just the right amount for the next phase of your development, so they'll run deposition training at the end of your second year, for example.”
Sources also found Wilson's “excellent database helpful: it has all of the firm's precedents on it, and all of the firm's documents are constantly updated with annotations to give you background on how to use them and why.” Rounding things off are Wilson's formal academy programs, which are run for associates in their first, third, fifth and seventh years at the firm. These gather all associates in the relevant year in one of the Bay Area offices for up to threedays of training on a range of both professional and practice-specific skills, as well as networking strategies.
Hours & Compensation
Attorneys have to hit a 1,950 hours target to become bonus eligible, and sources were confident that “most of us easily blow through that.” Corporate juniors were the most optimistic, and while litigators told us that it's “not hard to achieve,” they did highlight that “a decent number of people didn't reach it, but it wasn't a problem as far as we've been told.” A hundred of these hours can be made up of non-billable work such as newsletter writing, interviews or client alerts, and juniors can also include an additional amount of shadowing hours (time spent observing senior attorneys performing high-value tasks). Bonuses are lockstep and match the market – “people are generally happy with where we are!”
Day to day, associates come in between 8:30am and 9:30am, and usually aim to leave anywhere between 5:30pm and 7pm. Corporate juniors “may put in a couple of hours from home, and rarely stay later than 9pm in the office – the latest I stayed was 4:30am, but that's because a deal was closing and things needed to be done!” IP sources found that “there are a lot of manageable deadlines, although every once in a while something is dropped on you at the last minute,” while litigators said: “It's 50:50 as to whether I work at the weekend – if I do, it's always just for a couple of hours and not for a full day.”
All pro bono hours count toward Wilson's billable target. “I billed about 300 hours last year,” one source recalled, “and didn't get any flak from the firm for that. People might miss a day or two at work to attend pro bono hearings, and that's completely fine and supported.” While some “make it a point to build it into their practice,” some juniors found that “it can be hard to prioritize pro bono when the firm is busy.” Many sources agreed that although “the firm as an institution is very committed, the realities of the practice can make it hard time-wise.” When associates did have the time, they reported getting involved with housing and eviction cases, child custody and guardianship matters, and a hefty amount of immigration and asylum work. Interviewees highlighted ties with multiple programs and organizations, but repeatedly mentioned Casa Cornelia Law Center, which focuses on human and civil rights violations.
Pro bono hours
- For all US attorneys: 37,593
- Average per US attorney: 72
“I think it's quite diverse,” thought one Palo Alto-based junior, “and part of that comes from our being a Cali-based firm; we're quite well represented when it comes to LGBTQ individuals and ethnic minorities.” While this source's contemporaries agreed that representation is good at the junior level, they did highlight that the configuration “becomes more traditional as you move up the ranks.” That is slowly changing though, and in 2017, 44% of the firm's latest partnership appointments were women or minorities. Our sources didn't speak of many formal initiatives, but did emphasize the work of Wilson's Women's Task Force: “It's active, and hosts monthly meetings and outings that are well attended – they are trying.”
Juniors involved in recruiting highlighted a few significant qualities they looked for in candidates: “You really need to be a self-starter and willing to go and ask questions – you can't be someone that will sit in your office and just wait for things to come to you.” Good communication skills and the ability to pay attention to detail were other attributes deemed important by insiders. One source added that “being humble is important. People here are accomplished – some have PhDs, for example, while others have run their own companies. They have impressive backgrounds, but when they come here they bring with them humility and understand that they are starting all over again – those who don't understand that tend to struggle.”
Interview with managing partner Douglas Clark
Chambers Associate: What highlights from the past year would you want to flag up to student readers interested in your firm?
Douglas Clark: It was a very strong year for the firm, particularly during the second half. Our strengths are distributed well across all of our practices. For example, it's been a good year in capital markets; we recently represented Denali Therapeutics on its initial public offering, which was the year’s largest US biotech IPO. It's been a good year in M&A as well, where we've been involved in transactions for Barracuda and AppDynamics. In litigation, we had a noteworthy trial win for Amphastar Pharmaceuticals, and were recently retained by a utility company for a significant litigation engagement. Alongside our regulatory, antitrust and IP practices, it's been a very vibrant year.
CA: What is Wilson Sonsini's strategy? What do you hope the firm will look like in a couple of years' time?
DC: The firm has had a very consistent strategy for its entire lifespan. We're going to stick to our time-tested strategy, which is focusing on the representation of technology, life science and emerging growth enterprises. We can represent companies from series seed financings all the way up to sophisticated changes of control. Our domestic footprint was rounded out with the opening of our Boston office two years ago, so we're not planning any further expansion in the US. We're continuing to grow in all offices, and expect to have continued growth in the industries we're already in.
CA: How is the firm faring in the current economic and political landscape in the US?
DC: Last year, especially in the first half, there was tremendous uncertainty which affected some of our practices, especially renewable energy. Now, with the tax reforms clarified, there's less uncertainty in those areas. The drivers of our business are less affected by the current political landscape. Innovation in the US drives the success of our practice, and hopefully the government will remain somewhat out of that.
CA: What is the revenue split across your practice areas like?
DC: Corporate still represents around 60% of our revenue. Litigation, IP and antitrust round out the remaining 40%.
CA: How would you define the firm's culture?
DC: The tie that binds all the lawyers here is the affinity for representing the kind of companies we do. We're a business-oriented law firm, and give clients advice in a manner consistent with objectives, not abstract principles of the law. We try to give clients really great advice, and that predominates all our offices. We're financially conservative and try to make smart, prudent decisions on growth, consistent with our past and representing our clients. The ties that bind us are the clients we represent.
CA: What was the firm like when you joined and how has it changed since?
DC: I joined the firm in 1993 when we were approximately 160 lawyers in one location. Now we're at 800 lawyers, and in 15 locations. Other than those metrics, the firm is essentially the same. Our culture is consistent with what it was like then. Our mission and the types of clients we represent are the same as now. While we're larger and in more places, the culture and ethos of the firm is very much the same, and I hope that is the case 50 years from now.
CA: Do you have any advice or words of wisdom for student readers as they enter the legal profession?
DC: Find a law firm and practice that suits your intellectual passions. If you want to represent interesting technology or life science companies, a firm like ours is a great one. If you're not interested in working with entrepreneurs, there are a lot of firms that have different practices. It's important for law students to figure out the type of environment they want, and choose a firm that aligns best with that. It's a tough profession. If you have an affinity for the work and the type of clients the firm represents, you’ll have a much more fulfilling career.
Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati
650 Page Mill Road,
- Head Office: Palo Alto, CA
- Number of domestic offices: 11
- Number of international offices: 4
- Worldwide revenue: $797 million
- Partners (US): 204
- Associates (US): 438
- Main recruitment contact: Elizabeth Pond (email@example.com)
- Hiring partners: Lisa Stimmell, Maura Rees, Andrew Hoffman
- Diversity officer: Chris Boyd
- Recruitment details
- Entry-level associates starting in 2018: 53
- Clerking policy: Yes
- Summers joining/anticipated 2018:
- 2Ls: 48
- Summers joining/anticipated 2018 split by office:
- Palo Alto: 21, San Francisco: 6.5, San Diego: 4.5, Los Angeles: 2, Seattle: 2, Boston: 4, NY: 2, Washington, DC: 6
- Summer salary 2018:
- 2Ls: $3,462 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
Berkeley, Boston College, Boston University, Chicago, Cornell, Columbia, Duke, George Mason, George Washington, Georgetown, Penn, Harvard, Hastings, Michigan, Northwestern, NYU, Santa Clara, Stanford, University of Texas, UC Irvine, UCLA, USC, USD, UVA, UW, Yale.
Recruitment outside OCIs:
Candidates are welcome to apply directly by sending their materials (cover letter, resume and law school transcript) to 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 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
Chambers USA Guide 2017
- Capital Markets: Debt & Equity (Band 1)
- Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation (Band 2)
- Intellectual Property (Band 3)
- IT & Outsourcing: Transactions (Band 1)
- Life Sciences (Band 2)
- Litigation: Securities (Band 1)
- Tax (Band 2)
- Venture Capital (Band 1)
District of Columbia
- Antitrust (Band 2)
- Antitrust (Band 3)
- Corporate/M&A (Band 1)
- Technology: Corporate & Commercial (Band 2)
USA - Nationwide
- Antitrust (Band 2)
- Antitrust: Cartel (Band 3)
- Capital Markets: Debt & Equity (Band 4)
- Corporate/M&A: Highly Regarded (Band 1)
- International Trade: Export Controls & Economic Sanctions (Band 4)
- Life Sciences (Band 3)
- Privacy & Data Security (Band 3)
- Projects: Renewables & Alternative Energy (Band 3)
- Securities: Litigation (Band 4)
- Startups & Emerging Companies (Band 1)
- Tax: Corporate & Finance Recognised Practitioner
- Corporate/Commercial (Band 2)
- Intellectual Property (Band 3)