Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati - The Inside View

Long synonymous with Silicon Valley, Wilson Sonsini hires most new associates in California and Seattle, though there are openings elsewhere too.

TECH whizz Wilson Sonsini is Silicon Valley born and bred. The firm that handled Apple's IPO in 1980 cut its teeth in the booming emerging companies market of the 1970s, forging a USP for helping technology, life sciences and venture capital clients. Today it assists the likes of Google, Twitter, Netflix, Amazon and venture capitalists Sequoia, but big names are only half the package: Wilson Sonsini is still a major player on the start-up scene. Chambers USA considers it one of the best in the country for advising VC-backed newcos and it's this mix of little and large that sparked the interest of attorneys here when they were law students. “We work with amazing tech companies,” one new associate told us over the old-fashioned telephone, “from early start ups with two founders working out of an apartment to well-established public companies. We see a huge spectrum of clients.”

Chambers USA deems Wilson's capital markets, IT & outsourcing, securities litigation, corporate/M&A, and venture capital offerings among the best in California. Other ranked practices nationwide include capital markets, life sciences, antitrust, privacy & data security, and renewable energy. And much like the start-ups it's helped develop into international corporations, Wilson Sonsini has expanded beyond Silicon Valley. The HQ remains in Palo Alto but other offices are to be found along the Western Seaboard and East Coast, in Texas, and overseas in China and Brussels.

The Work

Most of the firm's juniors can be found in the Palo Alto HQ. A handful reside in San Diego and Washington, DC, with the remainder scattered across the rest of the network, focusing on Los Angeles, Seattle, San Francisco and New York. The corporate department takes on the largest numbers of juniors – over half the rookies on our list were based here – with the rest split between litigation, technology transactions and IP. Work allocation tends to be largely organic in most groups, though teams have different ways of monitoring hours and activity.

Corporate newbies in Palo Alto spend their first two years at the firm in a 'launch' program. “The corporate department is split into smaller practice groups which are very partner-centric,” one source explained. “People felt they were getting stuck working within these groups so the firm created 'launch',” a corporate pool in which juniors can sample different areas. Interviewees appreciated the opportunity to launch themselves into a range of groups. “I can't say enough good things about the staffing manager. You can request preferences and she ensures we get to experience working with different partners and practices.”

“The sheer amount of deals and clients means that staffing is very light.”

Across the firm our associate sources had a hand in matters spanning “the full life cycle” of a company, from formation and incorporation all the way up to IPOs and M&A. “We're working with start-ups at a very early stage who may have undergone a first few rounds of funding or venture capital financing. We might also help them with stock options and employee agreements. As they mature to mid-stage companies we handle more securities work and then as they mature they will be purchased or go public.” Others had worked with public companies “on the day-to-day management of their corporate law needs like resolutions or stock option grants.”

Day to day, tasks can be just as varied: “The thing about working for different partner groups,” one 'launch' interviewee told us, “is that they all have different ways of using juniors. Some are very careful and you receive a lot of oversight; you do due diligence and maybe take the first crack of drafting basic forms or side letters. In other groups you're working with start-ups who don't want to spend a ton of money.” Juniors often find themselves “able to kind of run the smaller deals” which tend to be staffed by just a partner and associate. “The sheer amount of deals and clients means that staffing is very light.  You're given guidance but trusted to do everyday negotiating, making sure the deal is on track to close, communicating with the clients and managing their expectations” as well as taking the first cut at drafting primary documents.

Many of Wilson's litigators find themselves in the securities and commercial litigation group, though other contentious departments include antitrust and patent litigation. One securities litigator told us: “When I first started I was doing doc review and very simple drafting; the mid to senior associates would do the bulk of dispositive motions while I'd draft the requests for judicial notices. I had much more of a role on an investigation where I was preparing witnesses and a CEO to testify before a government agency.” Other junior sources had got stuck in on legal research, kept clients updated on a case's progress, second chaired depositions and assisted senior attorneys in defending depositions.


“It's such a big firm and there's so much going on” – not to mention so many different offices  – that juniors were cautious about ascribing a particular, overarching culture to the firm. That being said, we did come across a few commonalities. “It's entrepreneurial; if you ask for a certain type of work you will get it but you have to be proactive. People appreciate it when you take the initiative to do things on your own, seek out answers and offer to take on more. The people who do well here are self-starters who are enthusiastic about getting their feet wet and not afraid to ask questions. They're self-motivated and don't need too much direction,” one Palo Alto based-interviewee found.

“The exciting energy of start-ups.”

“A lot of our clients are at a very early stage and that energy of emerging companies transfers into the office. At times it feels like we're part of a start-up; while I'm an IP lawyer I might be the only attorney my clients engage with for months at a time, so the legal advice I give is often beyond patent. The exciting energy transfers into all I do here,” another source enthused. This dynamism is needed too: “The pace at which the work comes in when you're working with early stage clients – it's like drinking water from a fire hose. It's become less overwhelming but for the first six months it was very intense.” Part of this is down to sometimes “challenging clients.” A corporate junior noted: “Some of these start-ups and entrepreneurs are living in a world of their own.” But interviewees were keen to point out that the flipside of working with emerging companies means “you get a great degree of autonomy when dealing with them. It forces you to grow very early on.” Another elaborated: “The needs and demands of clients mean things get pretty urgent quickly and then it's all hands on deck. They work you hard but we do try to be good at maintaining some kind of work/life balance.”

Despite the intense nature of work, juniors maintained “we're still a West Coast firm. We work hard but people understand you have a life outside of the law.” A San Diegan quipped: “It's BigLaw without the BigLaw part. We have the resources, the experts, the offices and all those kinds of perks but it's laid back and chilled.” Associates on the East Coast particularly appreciated the California mentality: “It's midweek and I'm wearing jeans, a sweater and loafers. There are not too many other firms in DC where I could get away with that.”  


Wilson Sonsini has 11 offices across the US. Boston's the most recent addition to the firm, opening in early 2016. Austin, Los Angeles, New York, Palo Alto (the firm's HQ), San Diego, Seattle, Washington, DC, Wilmington, and two San Francisco bases complete the US network. The firm also has hubs in Brussels, Beijing, Hong Kong and Shanghai.

Most of Wilson Sonsini's real estate is, reassuringly, decked out “like a pretty generic law firm office” and associates each have their own office. San Francisco's South of Market (SOMA) base, however, “caters to start-ups, so it looks like a start-up. It's an open work space with exposed brick and beams. It looks very industrial. You often find clients working downstairs – I'm not sure if they like working here or just don't have an office yet.” Many of the associates we spoke to tended to predominantly work with colleagues in their own office, though we heard from litigators working cross-offices, and that teams reached out to specialists in other locations, like antitrust in DC.

Training & Development

'Launch' associates can also be sure of a monthly check in on their progress; the staffing coordinator solicits feedback on a regular basis and juniors regularly meet with her for a fifteen-minute chat on their development. Outside of 'launch', everyone gets an annual review.

Newbies from across the firm are flown to Palo Alto for three days of intensive training as part of the 1st Year Academy. They later return for 3rd, 5th and 7th Year Academy. The programs put associates through their paces in workshops covering things like due diligence, negotiation and management delegation. The first three months of first-year “are slow on work; they do that on purpose and fill it with a lot of training.” Associates attend various training sessions giving them an insight into anything from specialty groups and how to tap into their resources, to practice classes on deal mechanics. Everyone's paired up with a 'First-Year Guide' to help integrate them into their new group. The firm also provides career guidance from coaches in the Career Management Center.

Hours & Compensation

Bonus eligibility starts once associates hit 1,950 hours. A hundred of these can be made up of non-billable work such as newsletter writing, interviews or client alerts, and juniors can also include an additional 50 shadowing hours. Unlimited pro bono also counts toward the target. Nearly all our sources, including those who hadn't tackled pro bono, had “no trouble reaching” the target. “I think most people go over it,” one source reckoned. “We're consistently busy.”

On the “biggest deals like IPOs and M&A you go full speed so you'll probably be here between 12 and 16 hours a day,” one source told us. Otherwise ten or 11 hour stints in the office were common among our interviewees, with many also putting in an hour or two from home. The firm recently got rid of its “black box” merit-based bonus system and replaced it with a lockstep model. It matches market rate for both bonuses and salary.

Pro Bono

“Expected to take the initiative”

Unlimited pro bono hours count toward associates' billable targets. “It's one of my favorite things about the firm,” one interviewee declared. “They're honestly not going to give you side eye if you say 'sorry, I've got to do this for my pro bono case'.” Juniors are “expected to take the initiative” if they want to get involved and reach out to an unofficial coordinator. While several of our sources had sought out pro bono work, others were unaware of who to contact: “I keep my eyes peeled but a lot of projects are hard to hear about.” The firm assures us there is an email, and the 'launch' program includes pro bono cases. Immigration cases are a dime a dozen but we also spoke to sources who had advised non-profit organizations on corporate issues, or assisted in guardianship cases, rent disputes, and unlawful detainment proceedings.

Pro bono hours

  • For all US attorneys: 48,871
  • Average per US attorney: 76


“It doesn't feel un-diverse but it doesn't scream diverse,” one junior mused. “In some aspects it is very diverse, we have a lot of women partners and a lot of Asian American lawyers.” A quarter of associates are of Asian origin, and on this basis the firm performs better than market on ethnic diversity.

There is a Women's Task Force. “It tries to bring women together to create a sense of camaraderie and highlights more senior people you can go to for advice about how to succeed in a law firm.” There's also an “Asian associates' dinner every so often.” Interviewees were keen to point out that despite the lack of formal initiatives, the firm covers membership for external groups.

Strategy & Future

Our strategy since the firm’s inception more than 55 years ago has been to focus on tech, life sciences, renewable energy, and emerging growth companies,” managing partner Douglas Clark tells us. The firm's in no rush to mess with a formula that works: “We're going to retain our focus on industry sectors and continue to represent tech, life sciences, and renewable energy enterprises. One area of growth in the past several years has been our project and infrastructure practice; it has focused on renewable energy of late and will continue that focus as infrastructure and investment continues to expand in the US”


We speak with managing partner Douglas Clark

Chambers Associates: Which practice areas have been particularly active this year?

Douglas Clark: We've had a notably strong year in M&A with more than 150 deals, including high-profile transactions such as representing LinkedIn in its sale to Microsoft and representing Microchip in its acquisition of Atmel. Our private company practice also had a strong year, as did our capital markets team, which handled a number of prominent IPOs, including Nutanix and BlackLine. Our IP practice continued to grow; our patent and tech licensing groups both continued our record of accomplishment in the life sciences sector. Part of our expansion in the life sciences area was the opening of our Boston office in early 2016. Our focus in that office is on the thriving life sciences market in and around Boston, and we have experienced corporate and IP teams there. That office has grown and will continue to grow. In addition, we continued to demonstrate strength in the areas of litigation and antitrust, obtaining several significant outcomes on behalf of our clients.

CA: Are there any offices or regions which have performed particularly well?

DC: Our strategy since the firm’s inception more than 55 years ago has been to focus on tech, life sciences, renewable energy, and emerging growth companies, so our geographic activity tends to reflect those markets. That is, we’ve been very active in the regions where those types of companies and the sources that finance them have been active.

It's been a vibrant year for financing, M&A, and, in the second half of the year, capital markets in Silicon Valley; Silicon Valley under that metric extends to Seattle, New York, San Diego, Austin, and Boston.

CA: What's the firm's strategy going forward?

DC: We're going to retain our focus on industry sectors and continue to represent tech, life sciences, and renewable energy enterprises. One area of growth in the past several years has been our project and infrastructure practice; it has focused on renewable energy of late and will continue that focus as infrastructure and investment continues to expand in the US. We represent developers and financiers of wind and solar projects all over the country. It's been a very strong practice for us and will continue to grow. Overall, we're expecting a year of consistent growth in key practices and geographies.

CA: What makes Wilson Sonsini stand out from its competitors?

DC: I think it's been our extraordinarily focused strategy – which hasn't changed over the past 55-plus years – of representing entrepreneurs and companies in tech, life sciences, and renewable energy, and growing alongside them. What we've built over the last decade is a platform that can service the needs of companies ranging from start-ups to multinationals, so on the same day, we can represent both an entrepreneur with an idea and a sophisticated international company such as Google. That's been our lasting strategy, and that focus distinguishes us from competitors that have a much broader gambit.

CA: What kind of person thrives at the firm?

DC: That's a great question. There are some key attributes. Like every law firm, we want really smart people, but the attorneys who enjoy working here are those who connect with the kind of companies we represent. If you want to represent large tobacco and insurance companies, this is not the right firm for you, but if you're interested in engaging with exciting entrepreneurs and companies that are disrupting their industries, it's a great place to work.

CA: Do you have any advice for law students as they try to enter the legal profession?

DC: The important thing is to work hard and focus on cultivating both the practitioner and relationship-building skills that are the most important aspects of a career as an attorney. It requires a significant amount of effort and attention to detail. The sooner you adopt a plan that will help you reach key milestones in your career, and focus on developing qualities that clients and colleagues respect, the better off you’ll be. You’ll certainly get there faster if you find something you love doing and excel at it.

Interview with hiring partner Lisa Stimmell

Chambers Associate: What’s the scope of your recruiting drive? What sort of law schools and geographical areas do you target?

Lisa Stimmell: We generally look to hire talented people who have a strong desire and passion for tech or life sciences. Given the scope of our practice and focus, we recruit from leading schools throughout the US and the top students from regional schools near many of our offices.

CA: How many students do you see at each campus? How many are called in for a second interview?

LS: It depends on the campus and can range from eighteen to sixty students. In Palo Alto or near our larger offices, we tend to see larger groups, as we meet with students who are interested in any of our offices around the country. Around thirty percent are called back for a second interview.

CA: Do you send both partners and associates to OCIs?

LS: We do. We generally send partners that have a relationship with the school or who are alumni, but occasionally we will send associates, particularly if they have a lot of interaction with the school and its alumni base. We try to send people with a good knowledge of both the school and the entire firm, because most of our interviewers are recruiting for multiple offices, not just their home offices. 

CA: And when interviewees come to the firm will they get to meet with partners and associates?

LS: Yes, we try to get people to meet with a range of attorneys, from juniors who can tell them what it's like to be coming in all the way up to more senior attorneys. Not only will candidates be able to find out the scope of what they will be doing at a junior level, they will also meet the type of people they'll be working for. In addition, we take each candidate’s interests, background and alma mater into consideration when structuring an office interview.

CA: What kind of questions do you ask during OCIs and callback interviews?

LS: OCIs happen so quickly that a lot of the time we're just looking for a good fit. We'll talk with people about their background, their interest in the firm and specific practice areas, to the extent people know about the latter. It's a 'get to know you' interview; we're given resumes and transcripts, so we sometimes dig in a little and ask about anything of interest, but the interviews tend to go pretty quickly so we're looking for a good fit before we invite them back to meet more people.

For callback interviews, a lot of it depends on the practice area. Again, we are looking for a good fit, someone who will be here long term, and someone who shows an interest in the firm and tech or life sciences. We probe into all those areas. We are also looking for intangible qualities like leadership, teamwork, entrepreneurial-ism, and going above and beyond. Sometimes we'll ask behavioral questions that will probe at those qualities.

CA: What makes someone stand out at interview?

LS: People who are enthusiastic and have a solid understanding of the practice and what we do. We have a bit of a unique practice; we're very enterprise focused and we like to see people who understand that type of work.

CA: What's your attitude to hiring people who've already had a career?

LS: Depending on the type of experience, we really do like work experience. If someone is looking for a mid-life career change, we want to know what the drivers of that are, but folks with a few years of work experience are always a positive for us, depending on whether the experience is relevant. In particular, people with experience in tech, life sciences or renewable energy, or people who have started or sold companies all bring valuable experience to our client base. We like people who understand the struggle of starting a new company. Any management, business consultancy or paralegal experience helps candidates understand the day to day of our practice.

CA: How many summers do you take each year? Which offices have a summer program?

LS: Usually we take on around 55 summer associates across the firm. Most of our offices host summer programs and this is the first year we'll hold one in Boston and Beijing. Austin, Los Angeles, New York, Palo Alto, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle, Washington, D.C., and Wilmington also host summer associates, but the program and the practice areas an office is interested in recruiting into vary by location.

CA: Can you give us an outline of your summer program – is there anything distinctive about it?

LS: What's most interesting about our summer program is the early and close client contact we try to give summer associates. We try to give them an idea of what it's like to practice law at all levels, not just the first-year experience. They will be sitting in on client calls and meetings, going to court appearances and depositions. We try to provide real-world experience and give them opportunities to visit client companies such as Google, Dropbox, Twitter and other big names students are excited about.

CA: How can someone really stand out as a summer associate?

LS: We really notice folks who show a willingness to go the extra mile and a desire to learn. The summer is about getting to know our attorneys and client base and the type of work we do so they know what they're coming into. Summer associates who really dive into assignments and show strong interest in our client base or one of our practice areas tend to stand out.




Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati

650 Page Mill Road,
Palo Alto,
CA 94304-1050
Website www.wsgr.com

  • Head Office: Palo Alto, California
  • Number of domestic offices: 11
  • Number of international offices: 4
  • Worldwide revenue: $755 million
  • Partners (US): 203
  • Associates (US): 464
  • Summer Salary 2017 
  • 1Ls: N/A
  • 2Ls: $3,462/week
  • Post 3Ls: N/A
  • 1Ls hired? No
  • Split summers offered? Yes, for returning 1Ls only
  • Can summers spend time in overseas office? On a case-by-case basis
  • Summers 2017: 56
  • Offers/acceptances 2016: 54 offers, 42 acceptances

Main areas of work
Corporate governance, corporate finance (private equity, capital markets, venture capital, finance and structured finance, fund services, and restructuring), mergers and acquisitions, litigation (securities and governance litigation, patent litigation, commercial litigation, consumer litigation, Internet law and strategy, white collar, board and internal investigations, government investigations, class action litigation, trade secret litigation, employment litigation, appellate litigation, and arbitration), intellectual property counseling and transactions (technology transactions, patents and innovation, trademarks and copyright, and post-grant review), antitrust counseling and litigation, employee benefits and compensation, export control and sanctions, FCPA and anti-corruption, energy and infrastructure, privacy and data protection, national security/CFIUS, cybersecurity, Federal Trade Commission, real estate, and tax.

Firm profile
Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati is the premier provider of legal services to technology, life sciences, and other growth enterprises worldwide, as well as the venture firms, private equity firms, and investment banks that finance and advise them. The firm represents clients in a vast array of industries at all stages of development, from venture-backed startups to multibillion-dollar global corporations. We are nationally recognized as a leader in the fields of corporate governance and finance, mergers and acquisitions, private equity, securities litigation, intellectual property, and antitrust, among many other areas of law. Over the past 50-plus years, since its inception in Silicon Valley, the firm has established its reputation by having a superior knowledge of its clients’ industries, as well as deep and longstanding contacts throughout the technology and life sciences sectors.

Recruitment details
• Number of 1st year associates: 55
• Number of 2nd year associates: 53
• Associate salaries: 1st year: $180,000
• 2nd year: $190,000
• Clerking policy: Yes

Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2017:
Berkeley; Stanford; Boston College; U. Chicago; Boston University; U. Michigan; Columbia; U. Penn; Cornell; U. San Diego; Duke; U. Texas; Fordham; U. Washington; George Mason; UC Davis; George Washington; UC Hastings; Georgetown; UC Irvine; Harvard; UCLA; Loyola; USC; Northwestern; UVA; NYU; Yale; Santa Clara

Summer details

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 intellectual property 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 program 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. Summer at our firm incorporates all the things important to our culture: challenging and varied assignments, direct working relationships with our innovative clients, meeting a wide range of attorneys, a comprehensive training program, and exciting social activities that take advantage of our locations in technology centers around the country.