Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft LLP - The Inside View

This “quintessential Wall Street firm” is crystal clear about its focus on financial services and exacting standards.

“WE'RE in a very strong position,” managing partner Patrick Quinn tells us confidently. But what does he think has helped Cadwalader – one of the country's oldest firms – secure this desirable status? “We did a good job a few years ago of refocusing the firm on its core clients. Understanding our core clients has helped us to understand ourselves; we are the quintessential Wall Street law firm. When I look across the firm today, we have the practice areas that service those kinds of clients and we're uniformly busy across our practice areas.”

The refocusing Quinn is referring to involved closing offices in Beijing, Hong Kong and Houston, and keeping the firm's attention homed in on the financial services sphere. This is reflected in Cadwalader's Chambers USA rankings, where its tip-top capital markets expertise shines on a nationwide level. On its home turf of New York (where around two thirds of the juniors on our list were based), the firm is especially commended for its real estate finance work, but also pitches up in the 'highly regarded' categories for its corporate/M&A and general commercial litigation practices. In Charlotte (where almost a third of juniors were based), Cadwalader rules the roost for real estate finance matters but has a growing reputation for its banking and finance work more generally. Only a handful of juniors were based in the DC office, where the firm's white-collar defense and investigations practice is concentrated. 

Strategy & Future

While Cadwalader may not be planting flags across the globe, it is nonetheless in “growth mode,” as Quinn reveals: “I expect we will be a larger firm in five years' time, but our focus is on increased depth in our practices. We'll be growing through a mix of internal promotions and strategic lateral acquisitions; we made nine new partners in 2017 and eight in 2018 through internal promotions alone.”

“Our clients are conducting their business in a much more regulated environment.”

The “biggest trend” shaping Cadwalader's current and future work is “the evolving regulatory landscape that all of our clients operate within; the Dodd-Frank Act continues to evolve and our clients are conducting their business in a much more regulated environment. We continue to be known as a top-of-the-market firm because of our ability to keep up with this regulatory evolution.” We were also told that contentious work overall has become a real area of expansion for the firm.

The Work

Cadwalader's capital markets and finance practice groups housed close to two thirds of the junior associates on our list. A fair number also called the corporate, financial services, and corporate and financial services litigation and regulation groups home. In most groups there are formal mechanisms in place – especially in the beginning – to help assign and monitor associates' work. Once associates find their feet, getting work becomes “very organic; it's based less on the practice group manager when you've built up working relationships with specific partners and clients, which works well as you can gravitate toward certain partners and steer yourself toward the type of work you want.”

Cadwalader wins high praise from Chambers USA for both its securitization and derivatives work on the capital markets side. In the former area, the firm's known for its commercial mortgage-backed securities (CMBS) and collateralized loan obligations (CLO) expertise, while those working in the latter area are noted for their ability to create deal structures that accord with the latest regulatory requirements. “Responsibility differs from associate to associate,” a Charlotte source commented; “if you work hard and prove yourself then you get more substantive work.” New Yorkers found that “matters are typically leanly staffed so you find yourself working with senior people,” which for one translated into “drafting legal opinions and sections of the main documents, as well as being involved in negotiations and advising clients one-on-one with a partner in the room.”

Capital markets clients: J.P. Morgan, Wells Fargo and Goldman Sachs. Recently advised the Royal Bank of Canada on the first Canadian CMBS transaction to comply with US risk retention rules.

Over in finance, “we represent a broad range of banks, from some of the largest to the smaller regional ones.” You'll also find insurance and finance companies on the books, plus a mixture of hedge, venture capital and private equity funds. Transactions span the likes of leveraged, acquisition, rescue and energy financings. In Charlotte, sources described doing “a ton of drafting, which has included security agreements. There is diligence and doc review, but once you get more senior you stop doing that and graduate to negotiating and talking to clients on the phone.” Others here found that diligence work enabled them to “become familiar with the underlying documents that support the funds” and praised the “early opportunity to start drafting some complex stuff with just a partner. Funds are always forming new vehicles, and I was able to do a lot of the heavy lifting!”

Finance clients: BNP Paribas, biopharmaceutical entity The Medicines Company and the New York branch of Dutch multinational Coöperatieve Rabobank. Recently advised Japan's largest bank, MUFG Bank, in relation to a $4.35 billion credit facility for the affiliates of physical commodities trading group Trafigura.

Corporate associates in New York described the “the two biggest” strands of work as “general M&A for both public and private companies, and shareholder activism for hedge funds that have public stakes in companies.” M&A deals were a hit, as “you get to be the master of the documents! You're maintaining the checklists and making sure that everything's there and that changes big and small are made properly.” Another added that the work had been “far more advanced than I anticipated. As a first and second-year you're figuring out certain provisions for the deal, and putting together ancillary documents and bills of sale.” 

Corporate clients: Liquid petroleum gas vessel owner and operator BW LPG, fund manager Elliot Management Corporation and investment firm Hudson Executive Capital. Recently acted for BW LPG during its $1.1 billion hostile bid for its competitor, Dorian LPG.

Career Development

One source in Charlotte emphasized that “it's largely based on quality of work: if someone's going to be a good contributor then the firm's going to see valid reasons for developing them.” New Yorkers were impressed by the firm's review system, which incorporates “clear benchmarks and standards that go all the way up to the eighth year. During our mid-year check-in they give us attorney development plans. The guidelines are always clear.” Big Apple sources also described the progression to partnership as “long [an estimated nine to ten years] and pretty clear-cut; you're an associate, then special counsel then partner,” but interviewees in DC had a less rigid view: “There's no single path. Some people here like to do three to five years at the firm, and then take on a prosecutor role and return to the firm as a partner.”

Hours & Compensation

All associates aim to bill 2,000 hours a year in order to qualify for a minimum bonus; 1,900 of those are expected to be client-billable, while 100 can be drawn from nonbillable activities like pro bono and contribution to marketing efforts. Most interviewees found this target attainable, “but it depends on your practice group” – corporate sources, for instance, expressed some reservations. Those that go above and beyond and bill 2,200 hours are rewarded with a 'super bonus,' which adds another 20% onto the minimum amount: “If you dangle the carrot people will work!”

“If you dangle the carrot people will work!”

Working hours can be long across the practices. In capital markets, “when you're on, you're on.” That means “a normal working day of billing seven to eight hours, but when we're close to printing an offering document you could be working on average until 2am for a week.” Finance juniors can also find themselves at the mercy of “fund structures and timelines – if they want to close a deal and get financing in place because they've got an investment lined up, you could be working until 3am.” No wonder Cadwalader matched the new salary scale set in the summer of 2018: “It was really important for morale,” a New Yorker reported. “While we were quite surprised by how long it took – two or three weeks, which felt like forever – we were in no doubt; we're just not in a position to not stay market.”

Pro Bono

Sources generally felt that Cadwalader encourages its attorneys to take on pro bono, but “it's really incumbent on each individual to find out what they want to do and how much they want to do.” The variety of pro bono “differs from office to office,” with this Charlotte resident commenting that “New York has better opportunities, plus in Charlotte we have fewer staff so we don't have the time to do as much.” Juniors across the offices mentioned the firm's immigration clinic, while those in New York cited tax incubator projects and business clinics, and Charlotte juniors highlighted veteran and LGBT matters.

Pro bono hours:

  • For all US attorneys: 5,228
  • Average per US attorney: 16


Many sources were quick to point out how Cadwalader had shed its former hard-nosed Wall Street vibe. “They're bringing on more personable partners and people,” reported one source. Others highlighted that rumors of difficult partners “have only been rumors for me – I haven't met partners like that.” One thing that has rung true for interviewees is the firm's adherence to high standards: “We pride ourselves on being at the top of our game, and there's the expectation that we will be. People here are driven to do good work – there are no slackers – but people aren't trying to up one another by staying late in the office or racing to get the big project.”

“There are no slackers.”

While several interviewees flagged that there is “mostly a New York-centric view,” those outside of the Big Apple said they could “forgive that” as the Charlotte and DC offices have their “own center and weight. There's not that sense of competition; if I need to go to New York or speak to people there it's so easy and seamless.” A Charlotte-based interviewee highlighted that “there's a really good culture here. It feels more like a midsize firm and not so much like BigLaw. We work a lot but we're not uptight.” In DC, meanwhile, “the office isn't as large as the one in New York, so we're more relational with one another.”

Diversity & Inclusion

The view from New York was that Cadwalader “definitely makes a strong effort to get diverse hires at the junior level; my class was probably around a third white men and two thirds women and people from diverse backgrounds. The diversity efforts around recruiting have the most notable effect.” However, others in the Big Apple flagged that “not a ton of the leadership positions are filled by minorities; on paper the initiatives are down, but in practice there's a different reality.” Charlotte-based sources felt that recruitment efforts were hampered by “the student candidate pool here: it isn't diverse. It's good for women but not for race.”

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Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft LLP

200 Liberty Street,
New York,
NY 10281

  • Head office: New York, NY
  • Number of domestic offices: 3
  • Number of international offices: 2
  • Worldwide revenue: $421,000,000
  • Partners (US): 83
  • Associates (US): 184
  • Other attorneys: 70
  • Contacts 
  • Main recruitment contact: Tara Conlon, Director of Legal Recruitment (
  • Hiring partners: Lisa Pauquette (NY) Jodi Avergun (DC) Henry LaBrun (Charlotte)
  • Diversity officer: La Tonya Brooks, Manager of Diversity & Inclusion
  • Recruitment details 
  • Entry-level associates starting in 2019: 30
  • Clerking policy: Case by case
  • Summers joining/anticipated 2019: 1Ls: 1, 2Ls 26, SEO 3
  • Summers joining/anticipated 2019 split by office: New York 19, Washington, D.C. 2, Charlotte 6
  • Summer salary 2019: 1Ls: $3,654/week 2Ls: $3,654/week
  • Split summers offered? Case by case
  • Can summers spend time in an overseas office? No

Main areas of work
The firm offers legal representation in antitrust, banking, business fraud, capital markets, corporate finance, corporate governance, executive compensation, financial restructuring, fintech, intellectual property, litigation, mergers and acquisitions, private equity, private wealth, real estate, regulation, securitization, structured finance and tax.

Firm profile
Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft LLP, established in 1792, is a leading legal advisor to many of the world’s top financial institutions and corporations and funds, with offices in New York, London, Charlotte, Washington D.C. and Brussels. Lawyers provide counsel on sophisticated and complex transactional, litigation, and regulatory matters to help our clients break new ground, achieve their business goals, and overcome challenges.

Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2019:
American, Brooklyn, Cardozo, University of Chicago, Columbia, Duke, Emory, Fordham, George Washington, Georgetown, Harvard, University of Michigan, Northwestern, NYU, Penn, Vanderbilt, University of Virginia and Washington University.

Recruitment outside OCIs:
We accept student applications through resume collections, on-campus resume drops, referrals, write-ins and job fairs. In 2019 we will be participating in the following job fairs: BU/BC NYC Job Fair, Cornell NYC Job Fair, Lavender Law, MCGC NYC Job Fair, MCGC DC Job Fair, NEBLSA Job Fair and The Law Consortium DC Job Fair.

Summer associate profile:
Cadwalader is a community of talented and driven individuals committed to innovation and premier client service. We seek candidates with a record of academic and personal achievement, who exhibit excellent communication skills and professionalism, and who are analytical and creative thinkers.

Summer program components:
Under the supervision of experienced attorneys, summer associates have an opportunity to make meaningful contributions to ongoing projects. You will work on diverse and challenging assignments in a variety of our practice areas, participate in substantive and skill building sessions and take on pro bono work. Our goal is to expose you to the various aspects of the practice of law: meeting with clients; participating in strategy and negotiation sessions; conducting research; drafting memos, documents and pleadings; and attending closings, depositions and court appearances. Associate and partner mentors will work closely with you throughout the summer. In addition to getting feedback on individual projects from supervising lawyers, you will also participate in mid-summer and end-ofsummer formal evaluations.

Social media
Recruitment website:
Linkedin: cadwalader-wickersham-&-taft-llp
Twitter: @Cadwalader

This Firm's Rankings in
USA Guide, 2019

Ranked Departments

    • Corporate/M&A: Highly Regarded (Band 3)
    • Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation (Band 4)
    • Real Estate: Mainly Corporate & Finance (Band 2)
    • Tax (Band 4)
    • Banking & Finance Recognised Practitioner
    • Real Estate: Finance (Band 1)
    • Capital Markets: Derivatives (Band 1)
    • Capital Markets: Securitisation (Band 1)
    • Corporate/M&A: Highly Regarded (Band 3)
    • Financial Services Regulation: Broker Dealer (Compliance & Enforcement) (Band 3)
    • Real Estate (Band 3)
    • Tax: Corporate & Finance (Band 4)