Fancy some tasty litigation and a burgeoning commercial practice? Try serial litigators Winston & Strawn… “they’re great!”
“If I had a younger sibling,” mused one Winston & Strawn junior, “I would say BigLaw can be really difficult, but if there’s a place you’d want to be, it’s here.” In what seems like a homogenous blur of firms, what is it that makes Winston stand apart from its BigLaw peers? “It’s a place that makes the long nights and the hard work a little easier,” said our fraternal source. “It’s a great place to have the opportunity to do substantive work early on and a great place to learn.” In fact, we heard the word “great” so often when describing Winston & Strawn we wondered if we’d accidentally entered a casting call for Tony the Tiger (who, like W&S, also hails from Chicago). Other things that were “great” at Winston, according to juniors, were the firm’s mentors, the partners, the people, the level of responsibility, the firm's strategic outlook, and the culture. So quite the extensive list…
A firm with a prestigious litigation heritage, Winston & Strawn’s list of juniors leaned heavily litigious, with around 60% of the 100-odd list of juniors in the firm’s general litigation practice. General corporate, meanwhile, took on a fair chunk of the rest, with the remaining juniors dotted across capital markets, employee benefits, environmental, finance, funds, labor & employment, M&A, private equity, real estate and tax. Beyond its Chicago HQ, the firm has a further nine domestic offices in Charlotte, Dallas, Houston, LA, Miami, New York, San Francisco, Silicon Valley, and DC. Six international offices in Europe, South America and the Far East complete its geographic footprint.
Chambers USA, meanwhile, recognizes Winston’s legal footprint with 40 ranked practices areas around the country, seven of which take the top spot: private equity corporate M&A, and energy regulatory & litigation in California; antitrust, and employee benefits & executive compensation in Illinois; white-collar crime & government investigations litigation in Texas; and shipping & maritime regulatory, and corporate crime & investigations, nationwide.
Nearly 90% of juniors on our list had gone through the summer program with Winston. The majority settled in Chicago and New York, with the rest spread out between Dallas, Houston, LA, San Francisco, DC and Charlotte. Winston allows summers to “do both litigation and corporate work,” using an assignment system, though summers “could also reach out to partners” themselves. Once at the firm, there are staffing teams and/or partners dependent on the office and department, but the consensus was that “after a few weeks most of my work comes directly from partners.” The mostly free-market system had both proponents and detractors. The latter noted that “because people don’t use the system, when everything gets hot at the same time you’ve got no one to help you. A lot of my stress comes up from that.” On the flip side, “there’s still benefits to reaching out to people, to going out into the hall and meeting people. There are important skills to be learnt by having a free-market system.” However, we were told that moving forward all departments are implementing formal assignment systems.
"What’s interesting is that we do plaintiff and defense. It’s a good mix.”
Talking about contentious issues, if litigationis your thing, W&S is a good place to go. It’s the firm’s flagship and sources said there were “a lot of different types of cases” for them to get involved in. With tech, pharma, and life sciences companies all firmly in the public eye, antitrust is hot in the US, and at Winston it was no different. “There’s a lot of antitrust at the moment that a lot of associates are staffed on,” said one source from the Big Apple. In addition to a diverse client list, we heard “what’s interesting is that we do plaintiff and defense. It’s a good mix.” However, antitrust was far from the only thing juniors had worked on. Juniors we spoke to had had the opportunity to work on complex commercial litigation, patent litigation, mass torts, class actions, post-M&A disputes, sport litigation and even some “labor and employment work, which was recently brought under the litigation banner.”
Associates were generally happy with the level of responsibility offered by the firm. “I expected to be doing a lot of doc review and being stuck on projects like that,” reflected one source, “but I was really grateful to do a lot of substantive work, both on the research and drafting side of things.” Of course, as is the norm, “when the teams get big, you get less substantive work. On one it was exclusively doc review.” On smaller matters where “it’s mostly me and the partner,” one source mentioned doing “witness interviews by myself and taking a first stab at drafting preliminary injunction oppositions, mediation statements,and eventhings that were sent to a court, or to an arbitrator.”
Litigation clients: Encore Rehabilitation Services, Associated British Foods, and Rent-A-Center. Represented online real estate marketplace company Zillow in a suit filed by Picket Fence Preview alleging misleading advertising and unfair competition claims.
Winston may be “known for litigation, but in recent years, corporatehas grown significantly.” We heard that “the firm is trying to build the corporate department and is looking for more summer associates who are interested in corporate.” The firm’s booming corporate department has three major streams: “Capital markets/securities, finance, investment funds, and private equity.” The sources we spoke to mentioned a lot of private equity-related work, but also noted that “while I do mostly private equity work, others do only capital markets, for example.” Others mentioned “a lot of M&A work” from “mostly private equity firms and the platform companies they own, but I’ve done work with public companies as well.”
“We’re not only doing diligence and running workstreams, we’re interfacing with clients and bankers.”
“Project management and diligence” were two things juniors could expect to do in corporate practices. Interviewees also mentioned dabbling in ancillary drafting that included “drafting certificates and resolutions, indemnification agreements, purchase agreements, terminations, board resolutions, closing checklists, rollover agreements, and disclosure schedules.” Were Winstonians happy with their responsibility? “We’re not only doing diligence and running workstreams, we’re interfacing with clients and bankers.” Our sources also found they were dealing with “hundreds of emails, even just on one deal. Sometimes I’m envious of my litigation colleagues, who don’t get as much email traffic!”
Private equity and M&Aclients: TreeHouse Foods, Whitebridge Pet Brands, and Illinois Tool Works. Represented Echo Global Logistics, provider of tech-enabled transportation and supply chain management services, in its $1.3 billion acquisition by funds from private equity firm The Jordan Company.
Strategy, Future, Hours & Compensation
“I felt we lost a lot of people during the lateral craze and were understaffed as a result,” explained our sources, “so there’s been a lot of burnout.” Our survey concurred. Compared to the market, folks at Winston were somewhat more stressed, with nearly two-thirds reporting that the work had an impact on their mental health. However, in mitigation, and moving forward, we were told “partners did hear us and were turning down deals and hiring laterals.” Sources also added that in 2021 “there were a lot of people out on parental leave, as well,” creating something of a perfect storm of too few staff in a booming legal market.
While our survey indicated that Winston’s hours were slightly above market, compared to the market they were much more positive about their compensation. Around 80% of Winstonians felt the bonus allocation was fair and transparent and that the benefits package made the workload worthwhile. The firm also matched the market in the latest round of salary hikes. In numbers, associates are required to hit 2,000 hours for their bonus – 1,900 of billables topped up by “100 firm work and pro bono. After 2,000 everything counts, so you could do 600 pro bono hours after that and get rewarded for having a high hours total.”
“If you’re looking for pro bono work, you reach out to the coordinator, and she’ll connect you to whatever there is.” Sources explained that “Winston does a lot of different pro bono: immigration, a few high-profile sports arbitration matters, criminal appeals, asylum work, and excessive force cases.” Sources also mentioned “work with Legal Aid Chicago and working for an organization that helps vulnerable children.” Juniors particularly liked that pro bono “is an opportunity to punch above your weight.”
“It’s a group of people who a) challenge you to succeed, but b) also recognize that you’re a person who has a life.”
Pro bono hours
- For all (US) attorneys: 64,678
- Average per (US) attorney: 76
Culture was another area that got a thumbs-up. “Winston is definitely a friendly place,” asserted one. “Everyone I’ve worked with is kind.” Others were even more enthusiastic: “I love it here,” one source unabashedly admitted. “It’s the combination of the work and the people I’ve been able to work with,” one mused. “It’s a group of people who a) challenge you to succeed, but b) also recognize that you’re a person who has a life.”
Sources said that during ‘normal’ times, “Winston people like to be social,” mentioning both “formal events” and “informal reaching out to see if you’re keen on happy hour.” And while we always worry that happy hour conversations center around mass torts and the like, sources reassured us “the people are personable. They can chat about things outside the law.”
“People will pick up for each other when people have other obligations.”
Junior associates also liked that the firm “invests in you rather than just seeing you as a commodity to do research.” Others agreed: “People will pick up for each other when people have other obligations.” Sources added that “when people give me work, it’s not purely transactional.” Juniors felt that while “the hours can be stressful, I get the sense that if I get work outside of normal hours, it’s not to test me or to make my life miserable. There’s normally an acknowledgement that this an imposition.”
Diversity, Equity & Inclusion
Like diversity across the rest of BigLaw, Winston “could be better. I feel like at junior level there’s a lot of representation, but once you get to midlevel the numbers drop significantly.” But across our survey, respondents were positive about the firm’s D&I efforts, with Winston & Strawn scoring well above market across several metrics: its efforts in recruiting diverse associates; inclusivity training; efforts to retain and promote diverse lawyers; the effectiveness of its affinity groups; the firm’s mental and wellbeing initiatives; the mentorship from a diverse range of partners; and the firm making partnership achievable for attorneys with children.
Such positive metrics are probably based on things like the way “W&S has a zero-tolerance policy in terms of people being treated badly because of the way they look.” Others added that “being able to look up and see women and women of color at the very top feels pretty unique, and it’s really inspiring.” Our sources added that “the firm has added reproductive health benefits, such as egg freezing, and that’s meant a lot to both women and men. It’s good to know that there’s that safeguard if I need it.” It was also encouraging to hear “associates can now count 50 hours they spend on diversity initiatives toward the overall target, like going on a panel, being on a webinar, or attending the firm’s diversity meetings.”
Juniors at Winston enjoy a mentoring system that involves getting “new mentors every year.” Paired with both “an associate and a partner mentor” every year, sources also said “you have an option to request what type of level you want your mentor to be.” For most of our sources, the feedback was positive. “I got paired up with a senior partner and that’s been awesome,” boasted one happy associate. “They’re really gracious with their time. It was,” you’ve guessed it, “great.”
The first stage: recruitment on and off campus
OCI applicants interviewed: 1,198
Interviewees outside OCI: 237
Winston generally focuses on OCIs from the country’s top law schools. The firm also attends job fairs that “allow us to focus on recruiting diverse candidates and those with technical backgrounds interested in specific areas of the law,” Bill O’Neil chair of the hiring committee, explains. Winston generally interviews 1,300 students firm-wide each year. Interviews are typically conducted by a team of two attorneys – often a partner and an associate from different departments.
“Our interview questions tend to focus on three core values: intellect, leadership and interpersonal skills, and grit,” O’Neil tells us. For intellect, interviewers ask questions that are aimed at revealing students’ analytical skills, judgment, and decision-making process: “We may ask how their undergraduate major will prepare them to tackle some of the challenges they’ll face as a lawyer.” For leadership, interviewers focus on students’ interests outside of the classroom and their interaction with others: “We may ask about experiences they’ve had working on teams and the roles they play; challenges they’ve faced as they’ve adapted to law school; their proudest accomplishment, and what sort of activities they engage in for fun.” Finally, for grit, they’re on the look-out for work ethic, motivations, business savvy-ness, and resilience: “We may ask about a student’s most challenging work or school assignment and how they handled it; steps they’ve taken to ensure success in law school; the career path they would have chosen had they not gone to law school; and their most rewarding work experience.”
Top tips for this stage:
“Be yourself. But be the best version of yourself. Listen carefully to the questions and try to answer using examples from your own experiences. Genuine answers are the best answers.” – Bill O’Neil, chair of the hiring committee
Applicants invited to second stage interview: undisclosed
In general, each student meets with at least four attorneys – a combination of partners and associates. Each interview typically runs between 20 and 30 minutes. Interviews are held in the attorneys’ offices, which “provides opportunities for students to see our space and informally meet others at the firm as they are escorted from office to office,” says O’Neil. A callback interview could also include a lunch, coffee break or another meeting in a less formal setting. Winston also hosts evening interview programs in some offices.
“At the callback stage, we are primarily focused on ‘fit’ – both for us and for the student,” O’Neil tells us. “At this stage, we are examining our mutual chemistry and cultural fit. We ask questions that are designed to allow the candidates to demonstrate in greater depth their interpersonal and leadership skills, their grit, their analytical skills and judgement, and also what drives them.”
Top tips for this stage:
“Listen carefully; be genuine; share your unique experiences and perspectives; and show us that you know about our firm. But be prepared to do that for a longer period of time over the course of back-to-back interviews. Remain enthusiastic and engaged throughout each of the interviews.” – Bill O’Neil chair of the hiring committee
Offers: 287 (both 1L and 2L offers)
Acceptances: 100 (1Ls and 2Ls)
Winston’s ten-week summer program provides “real work experience, including pro bono work, mentoring relationships, training, and networking opportunities,” O’Neil explains. Assignment coordinators assist summers in getting assignments based on summers’ preferences.
Summer associates are assigned at least one formal mentor and there is a formal lunch program that allows any attorney to take one or more summer associates to lunch: “This is a great opportunity for summer associates to connect with attorneys in a less formal environment,” notes O’Neil. The summer program focuses on providing training opportunities for all summer associates across Winston’s two major departments: Litigation and transactional. Litigation training is often focused on a mock trial and/or a deposition. The corporate component typically consists of a workshop designed around the negotiation of a purchase agreement.
“Social activities are crucial components of our summer program and provide summer associates with a great feel for the firm’s culture.” The firm has many social events that “allow our summer associates to share fun experiences and develop strong personal relationships with each other and with our attorneys.” Some of these events include sporting, art and cultural excursions, as well as lunches and dinners.
Top tips for this stage:
“One of the greatest benefits of our summer program is the opportunity to build deep, meaningful, and lasting relationships with peers and mentors. When our summer associates return as full-time associates 16 months later, it is those relationships that allow them to hit the ground running and access great professional development opportunities early in their career.” – Bill O’Neil, chair of the hiring committee
Winston & Strawn LLP
35 West Wacker Drive,
- Head Office: Chicago, IL
- Number of domestic offices: 10
- Number of international offices: 6
- Worldwide revenue: $1,153,200,000
- Partners (US): 351
- Associates (US): 438
- Main recruitment contact: Lisa A McLafferty, Director of Attorney Recruiting & Development email@example.com
- Hiring partners: William C O’Neil, Chair, Hiring Committee
- Diversity officer: Sylvia James, Chief Diversity & Inclusion
- Recruitment Details
- Entry-level associates starting in 2022: 75
- Clerking policy: Yes
- Summers joining/anticipated 2022: 100 (1Ls: 25 , 2Ls: 75)
- Summers joining/anticipated 2022 split by office: Charlotte 2, Chicago 28, Dallas 21, Houston 10, Los Angeles 6, New York 23, San Francisco 3, Silicon Valley 3, Washington, DC 4
- Summer salary 2022
- 1Ls: $4,134 /week
- 2Ls: $4,134 /week
- Split summers offered? No
- Can summers spend time in an overseas office? No
Main areas of work
Antitrust/competition, appellate and critical motion, capital markets, class actions, complex commercial litigation, consumer products, e-discovery and information governance, employee benefits and executive compensation, energy and infrastructure, project development, finance, funds, environmental law, financial services, financial services regulatory, health and life sciences, intellectual property and patent litigation, international arbitration, labor and employment relations, litigation, maritime and admiralty, mergers and acquisitions, special purpose acquisition companies, patent litigation, private equity, product liability, public finance, real estate, restructuring and insolvency, securities litigation, securitization, sports, tax, technology, digital media and entertainment, private client services, white-collar, regulatory defense and investigations
For more than 165 years, Winston & Strawn LLP has served as a trusted adviser and advocate for clients across virtually every industry. In that time, through careful growth and thoughtful fiscal management, we have built a law practice with tremendous breadth and a global reach. We are proud of the many accolades we have received over the years—a tribute to our lawyers’ creativity, flexibility, depth of experience, and commitment. The most meaningful accolade to us, though, is the continued trust and confidence of our clients. With nearly 1,000 lawyers and 16 offices in key financial centers across the world (Brussels, Charlotte, Chicago, Dallas, Hong Kong, Houston, London, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Paris, São Paulo, San Francisco, Shanghai, Silicon Valley, and Washington, D.C.), we bring an understanding of the global legal issues our clients face to both transactional and dispute-related matters.
Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2022: 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’s ‘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.
This Firm's Rankings in
USA Guide, 2022
- Corporate/M&A: Private Equity: Highly Regarded (Band 1)
- Energy: State Regulatory & Litigation (Band 1)
- Labor & Employment: The Elite (Band 4)
- Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations (Band 3)
District of Columbia
- Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation (Band 4)
- Litigation: General Commercial: Highly Regarded (Band 2)
- Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations (Band 5)
- Antitrust (Band 1)
- Banking & Finance (Band 3)
- Corporate/M&A & Private Equity (Band 2)
- Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation (Band 1)
- Environment (Band 3)
- Intellectual Property (Band 2)
- Labor & Employment: The Elite (Band 4)
- Litigation: General Commercial (Band 2)
- Litigation: Securities (Band 2)
- Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations (Band 2)
- Tax (Band 3)
- Antitrust (Band 3)
- Litigation: Securities (Band 5)
- Media & Entertainment: Litigation (Band 4)
- Litigation: General Commercial (Band 4)
- Corporate/M&A: Highly Regarded (Band 1)
- Intellectual Property (Band 2)
- Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations (Band 1)
- Real Estate (Band 3)
Texas: Dallas, Fort Worth & Surrounds
- Litigation: General Commercial (Band 2)
USA - Nationwide
- Antitrust (Band 4)
- Antitrust: Cartel (Band 2)
- Capital Markets: Securitization: CLOs (Band 2)
- Corporate Crime & Investigations: Highly Regarded (Band 1)
- E-Discovery & Information Governance (Band 2)
- Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation (Band 4)
- Energy: Oil & Gas (Transactional) (Band 4)
- Intellectual Property (Band 4)
- International Arbitration: Highly Regarded (Band 2)
- Private Equity: Fund Formation (Band 4)
- Product Liability & Mass Torts: Highly Regarded (Band 2)
- Projects: Power & Renewables: Transactional (Band 3)
- Projects: PPP (Band 2)
- Projects: Renewables & Alternative Energy (Band 2)
- Sports Law (Band 2)
- Transportation: Shipping/Maritime: Regulatory (Band 1)
More from Winston & Strawn:
People at Winston
with Lisa McLafferty, director of attorney recruiting and development.
Winston's CSR vision
with Julie Goodman, chief CSR officer.
Coaching at Winston
with Diane Costigan, director of coaching.
Winston's progressive leave policy
with partners Linda Coberly and Julia Johnson.