This formidable litigator with a growing corporate side is dusting off its conservative image and investing heavily in its associates.
CHICAGO stalwart Winston & Strawn knows how to make an entrance. In early 2017 it strutted into Dallas with all the swagger of John Wayne to round up 23 partners from eight rival firms and open its very first Dallas base. “We recognized that Dallas was a place where we could add to our national platform and expand in a city that has a lot of growth opportunities,” managing partner Tom Fitzgerald tells us. The new addition will focus on adding to and strengthening the firm's litigation, real estate and corporate capabilities and gives Winston a grand total of 16 offices.
Winston's origins began much further north: it's the oldest firm in Chicago and, “having been here forever, is extremely well respected and well known.” Age isn't the only thing earning Winston a good name; it's a beast in the courtroom, picking up a top tier Chambers USA ranking for its general commercial litigation practice. Intellectual property, transactional media & entertainment, energy, and shipping regulation also nab top spots. Meanwhile, the firm's corporate/M&A practice – which also earns a nod from Chambers USA – is in the midst of a flurry of growth.
Dallas isn't the only thing being shaken up by the firm. Winston's long enjoyed a reputation for being a conservative outfit but over the past few years associates had noticed “a concerted effort to change that image from the top down.”
Around 60% of new associates go into litigation, while corporate accounts for roughly a quarter of juniors. The rest go into smaller groups including energy, employee benefits, labor & employment, real estate, and tax. Most practices dish out work through a free market system. “As a young associate it can be difficult as the onus is on you to find work, but it's the best way to meet partners and get out there,” sources told us. Should they run into difficulties an assigning partner is on hand to connect them with partners. The corporate group supplements its free market system by asking juniors to fill out a weekly form indicating their availability. New York deal-doers had been using this dual system “for a while. It was working well to smooth out peaks and valleys,” so it was recently adopted by other offices.
Litigation newbies spend their first few years as generalists, hopping between anything from securities and IP litigation to antitrust and general commercial disputes. Large scale doc review “is farmed out to review companies,” though our sources hadn't entirely escaped stints poring over the docs. One litigator outlined: “My first year and a half was spent typically doing junior associate tasks like case management, discovery related work and heavy research but in the last half a year I've taken on a substantial amount of drafting, taken control of briefs and second chaired depositions.”
“A great way to get your name in front of people elsewhere.”
Corporate rookies dip their toes into a bunch of transactional areas, like M&A, private equity and finance. “In the first year you work on ancillary documents and diligence and figure out what a deal is and what all the different parts and aspects are,” one third-year told us. “As a second-year you tackle the drafting of ancillary documents and learn what they do and by the third year you're pushed into the more substantive documents. I've been working on a purchase agreement; I wasn't really sure if I was doing it correctly or not but the partner sat down with me afterward explaining why any changes needed to be made.”
Across practice areas, many juniors reported often working with colleagues in other offices – juniors in the smaller DC office were particularly likely to do this. “You're not tied to what practices are physically in your office,” sources told us. “It's a great way to get your name in front of people elsewhere and build relationships among associates and partners.”
Most of the firm's associates are based in Chicago or New York. Washington, DC takes a handful and the rest are scattered between Charlotte, Houston, San Francisco and LA. New Yorkers share an office for their first two years: “They try to pair us up with people we got along with on the summer program,” so make sure any summer bromances are well publicized. Rookies in DC used to get lumbered with internal offices, “but now everyone gets their own office with a window.” Chicago juniors also get their own digs complete with window from the get-go. In Chicago and DC, the firm has now moved to new premises.
Hours & Compensation
In June 2016, the firm announced salary rises for associates in all its US offices, not just New York. “It was a great thing for morale and affirmed the firm's commitment to us. We were one of the first firms to match and the first in Chicago to do so,” interviewees gushed.
Hitting 2,000 hours makes associates eligible for a base bonus. Provided they've got 1,900 in client billables under their belts, associates can count up to 100 pro bono or 40 firm citizenship hours toward the base bonus threshold. The latter encompasses time spent working on things like pitches or recruitment. After reaching 2,200 hours there's the likelihood of moving to a higher tier bonus which increases in 100-hour increments. Any additional pro bono hours can count toward these post 2,200 hour step-up bonuses.
There's no formal vacation policy at Winston and how much associates take off largely depends on the attitude within their group. We heard of some partners who insist people take at least two weeks, while some associates elsewhere felt taking that would be pushing it.
Juniors often put in at least nine hour days but warned it can get “volatile. On a normal day when nothing's too crazy I could be out around 7pm. If things are hectic it's more 11pm but of course it can go all night,” one source told us. Many of our interviewees worked with colleagues who were “super flexible” about where they expect juniors to get their work done, so heading home for dinner before plugging in for another hour's graft or working from home once a week or so was fairly common.
We also heard that Winston's Chicago office has recently become more “open to reduced hours and alternative schedules. I think there's been a shift; management sat down and communicated what's available and how it can be used. It would be a great option for having kids and making this job work and hopefully eliminating the stigma around reduced hours will keep more women here,” one source suggested.
“A push from the Associates' Committee and Women's Committee.”
Winston recently rolled out a new gender neutral parental leave policy which affords new parents up to 20 weeks paid leave. “It's incredibly generous and has made a huge impact with women at the firm,” one source told us. “It's a really good signal to us and was brought about by a push from the Women's Committee.” While the gesture prompted very high praise from our interviewees, the question remains as to how much time parents will actually take. Sources informed us the firm has “held meetings about it and reiterated it's not just lip service – they want us to use it.” We were told that since the move, “two associates took full paternity leave, which is unheard of.” Others were more hesitant about taking the full allowance so time will tell how much use associates will make of the new policy. The firm also has a parental leave liaison to help with the transition period.
Juniors noted the firm “could be more diverse,” especially when it comes to racial diversity. Winston has a diversity committee and affinity groups for ethnic minorities and LGBT attorneys, and offers three scholarships to diverse summers every year.
Winston has long had a reputation for being a more formal and conservative kind of place. While some Chicago sources agreed they didn't think that description was “far off,” many Windy City dwellers were keen to stress “it's changed over the last five years and a lot over the last year.” One interviewee explained: “When I was a summer the door tags said 'Miss' or 'Mr', but now it's just your name.” Another visible signs of change has been the introduction of jeans on Friday: “We used to just wear jeans once a month and even that was a stretch but I think, thanks to a push back from the younger attorneys, the boundaries of business casual versus business professional tend to lean more toward the casual side,” one source told us. Others pointed out that “the firm's more open to flexible and modern working arrangements,” such as the increasing emphasis on reduced working hours and the new parental leave policy. One source posited: “I think the firm's realized that their employees, whether attorneys or staff, are their greater assets and they want to make working here as pleasant as possible.”
"They want to make working here as pleasant as possible.”
Over in New York, juniors didn't see much of the conservative reputation: “Maybe it's more among the senior partners?” one source suggested. “The interactions with people feel very casual,” prompted by this office's commitment to weekly happy hours. “It's open to lawyers and staff and a great opportunity to unwind. Last week it was Super Bowl themed but it can range from Mardi Gras to tributes to Dolly Parton.” In DC, “everybody is very friendly but only about half of us actually do the majority of our work with people in this location, so it's harder to have a homogeneous office culture.”
Training & Development
Following grumbles in the past over the briefness of the review system, evaluations have undergone an overhaul. Juniors used to get oral feedback from a partner outside of their practice group. “The guy was very nice but it was weird as he wasn't in my practice area so it was harder to speak with him about my progress,” one source recalled of the previous set-up. Juniors now receive a written copy of their feedback and the review is conducted by two partners, one of whom they've worked with, “to give you a better idea of how you're doing with your career and what you should be working on. It's a big change and a very positive one.”
First-years at Winston are introduced to the firm with a week of orientation in Chicago, followed by weekly, hour-long sessions on various topics. For litigators, topics include how to prepare for trial, steps for discovery, and how to perform doc review, and every two years newbies gather in the Chicago office for firmwide deposition training.
Attorneys are “given a lot of opportunities to do pro bono. We have a coordinator who sends out emails alerting us to matters and you can also reach out and ask for certain types of projects. A lot of people use it as a chance to develop stand up skills like cross-examinations or oral arguments.”
We're told there's “a lot of immigration work to be had in Chicago,” but sources had also gotten involved in adoption placement matters and helped clients appeal against the termination of housing vouchers. Assisting non-profits with corporate governance, drafting contracts and applying for tax exemption filled the dockets of corporate interviewees.
Pro bono hours
- For all US attorneys: 63,167
- Average per US attorney: 83
Strategy & Future
Over the past few years the firm's been on a drive to be more transparent with associates about what's going down at Winston. “They do it on a superficial level where they tell us they're adding these groups or focusing on these areas but they don't apprise us on big decisions until they've been made,” one source told us. That said, juniors did note the situation “has improved” and if you do reach out and ask the partners “they're typically very open about what is going on down the pipeline.” Sources also praised the Associates' Committee: “It has really developed over the last two years and the partners take it a lot more seriously.”
We check in with managing partner Tom Fitzgerald
Chambers Associate: The firm just launched its first Dallas office. Could you talk us through the reasoning behind that move?
Tom Fitzgerald: When we looked at the areas of commerce and where major corporations, private equity and banking institutions are located, we recognized that Dallas was a place where we could add to our national platform and expand in a city that has a lot of growth opportunities.
We spent about eight months planning. We wanted to add to our prominent corporate practices – private equity, finance, capital markets and M&A – and we were able to accomplish that by adding high level partners to each of those teams. From a litigation standpoint we looked at it as an opportunity to add strength and capacity to complex commercial litigation and white collar investigations. Our focus was to expand our existing national practices by making them stronger and putting them in a position, and new location, to grow over the next five to ten years. The combination of both litigation and corporate practices and Dallas-based clients were uppermost in our mind as we built the office.
CA: In the spring of 2016 the firm announced a generous, gender-neutral Parental Leave Policy, what prompted this?
TF: It was driven by something that is of the utmost importance in our industry – talent. We needed to retain our talent, so we developed the policy to make sure that we were able to provide our attorneys with the support they needed to have both a career and strong family life. It is focused on talent retention, and it has succeeded in its purpose. Obviously people will leave to do other things and pursue other opportunities, but we thought the policy would allow us to maintain a large percentage of associates.. I think it will help us attract individuals of high quality as they know the firm has an active interest in maintaining their career trajectory in addition to supporting their lives outside work.
We've done other things, in the Chicago office in particular, to put us in a position to retain our talent and to be viewed as a good place to work and somewhere people want to come to work. Let's face it, we work hard, we have client demands and we provide high level services; as we spend a lot of time in the office with our colleagues and we want that environment to be as good as it can be.
CA: Which of your practice areas have been hot this year?
TF: Our revenue, profitability, and our assets increased slightly. It was a record year across all three areas. In many ways it was a very successful year, but there's no doubt the growth in the market is flat and our folks had to work hard to move that needle ever so slightly. It was just a harder year to develop revenue and profitability. I think the industry continues to be an industry where there are a lot of great law firms and we compete every day against them; the market is extremely competitive, no question about it.
CA: What's the firm's strategy going forward?
TF: We continue to focus on our clients. We're expanding our emphasis on clients in general and our largest clients in particular. We think sector expertise is an increasingly important aspect of our service to our clients. They want to know what we do and how we do it, and what we know about their business and their market. It's an important ingredient in how we serve clients and how we provide services. We're also focusing on key practices; there are a limited number of practices we think we can succeed, and we want to focus on those and build a national and international practice.
CA: Is there anything else you think students should know about the firm?
TF: When we've come off a record year, we smile and take pride but we're more focused on getting back to work to make the next year even better. That's our philosophy.
How to get hired at Winston & Strawn
If you want to impress at Winston, there are a few things to bear in mind. “I think they admire previous professional experience, they definitely look at what law students have done over their summers and they value things like internships and clerkships,” one interviewee informed us. “There do seem to be a lot of people who have had some type of previous career. When you interview they'll try to line you up with someone who's had similar experiences.”
Personality wise associates thought the firm kept its eyes open for “people who areoutgoing and people we feel will take the initiative and not sit back waiting for opportunities to appear.” Another elaborated: “You're tasked with a lot of responsibility. We don't want you to 'hem' and 'haw' so that we lack confidence turning things over to you.”
One source with interviewing experience looked for “people who are eager. I want someone who I can trust to do the work and put the time in and not cut corners. A positive attitude goes so far. I just like somebody who is hard working and determined, and has what [hiring partner] Bill O'Neill calls grit.” Along similar lines, another associate felt the firm was keen to see “people who have confidence and have shown they have been through adversity.”
And their tips for pulling out all the stops in interviews? “The people who impress me the most are the ones who have an idea of where they want to go in their career and what they want to get out of the firm. They were also just sociable and relatable. Most people are pretty intelligent and career oriented but the ones I enjoyed interviewing were the ones who seemed genuine.” Others are impressed by “people who know more about the firm than I do. I often learn about the firm through them,” one source joked.No-one likes a show off though, so while we really don't recommend trying to outdo your interviewer in a 'who knows more?' battle of the wills – this isn't Suits andyou are not Mike Ross – the point about proper preparation is key. Do your homework on the firm; a cursive glance at its website isn't enough so dig deep and check out chambersandpartners.com to get the low down on Winston's practice areas and its movers and shakers.
Winston & Strawn LLP
35 West Wacker Drive,
- Head Office: Chicago, IL
- Number of domestic offices: 10
- Number of International offices: 7
- Worldwide revenue: $822,300,000
- Partners (US): 356
- Associates (US): 447
- Summer Salary 2017
- 1Ls: $3,461/week
- 2Ls: $3,461/week
- Post 3Ls: N/A
- 1Ls hired? Yes
- Split summers offered? No
- Can summers spend time in overseas offices? No
- Summers 2017: 68
- Offers/acceptances 2016: 64 offers, 57 acceptances
Litigation, corporate and financial, intellectual property, labor and employment relations, tax, employee benefits and executive compensation, energy, environmental, government relations and regulatory affairs, healthcare, maritime, real estate, trusts and estates.
Throughout its more than 160 year history, Winston & Strawn LLP has handled many significant, high profile matters for its clients – from antitrust litigation to cross-border mergers, energy transactions to labor negotiations. The firm is a global law firm with more than 875 attorneys across the US, Europe and Asia. The firm’s mission is to provide the highest quality legal services to meet the difficult legal challenges of the world’s most important companies and organizations. Winston & Strawn is consistently honored by its clients for outstanding legal service.
• Number of 1st year associates: 51
• Number of 2nd year associates: 47
• Associate salaries: 1st year: $180,000
• 2nd year: $190,000
• Clerking policy: Yes
Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2016:
Please visit the Careers section of winston.com for a list of OCI Schools.
Summer associate profile:
Winston & Strawn prefers strong academic performance, participation in law review or other law school publications or competitive endeavors and a good balance of academic and interpersonal skills.
Summer program components:
Summer associates have the opportunity to learn about a wide range of Winston practice areas and the specialized skills each one demands. Individual department presentations allow summer associates to meet lawyers from specific practice groups who detail what they do in their daily practice. The Firm Highlights Lecture Series gives an inside look at some of the most publicized and interesting cases that the firm handled in the past year. In addition, the firm offers a practical training component that provides hands-on experience with activities such as drafting a legal research memorandum, negotiating a deal, drafting an IPO document, taking a deposition and trying a case in a mock trial. Summer associates learn from veteran Winston attorneys with years of experience and insight, who make the law come alive through examples, personal experience and anecdotes. In addition, summer associates have the opportunity to build relationships with attorneys through a variety of social activities throughout the summer.