Every day is Independence Day at this finance-focused land of the free-market.
Freedom, responsibility and self-determination define associate life at this Manhattan institution. With a free-market system, no billable hours target and a “learn as you go” approach, associates said that what you do and where you do it is up to you: “There’s a strong, independent mentality.” (Alongside, we might add, various support structures to help newbies especially.) As a quintessential New York finance firm with satellite offices in DC and London, Cahill has clients that constitute a who’s-who of the financial elite. Just some of the financial institutions adorning the books are Bank of America, Credit Suisse, Deutsche Bank, JPMorgan Chase, and Wells Fargo.
Cahill’s focus on finance flavors its litigation work too, as executive committee member Jonathan Schaffzin explains: “Many of our corporate clients come to us with investigation and regulatory issues, and we’re very well positioned to help them.” Our sister publication Chambers USA puts Cahill firmly among the best in the country for banking and finance and high-yield capital markets – the latter is one of three capital markets rankings. It’s also very strong in insurance litigation, and in New York specifically, it scoops rankings in white-collar crime, finance-related litigation, and First Amendment litigation.
Associates have the option of corporate or litigation upon joining the firm; their choice can be made after sampling areas during the summer program. When speaking to corporate associates, we hear “leveraged finance and high-yield bonds” so often we wonder if we’re on a loop. It’s exactly what the group is known for, along with credit agreements and broader bank financing matters. There’s also “some equity, capital markets and M&A work, and I heard there’s mezzanine financing,” but associates are less likely to work on these kinds of matters. The deals will inevitably be high-stakes, high-value and a fast-paced learning environment.
“it’s easy to speak to partners. No one’s pretentious or hard to reach.”
Corporate work at a junior level meant coordination: “You’re making sure documents are being moved around for each deal you’re working on and gathering input from specialists and team members.” First-year territory meant “reviewing public filings, getting supporting documents, turning comments, and due diligence,” though inevitably second years end up pitching in on those tasks too. As one example of the grunt work, this associate described “creating a list of all the people at Cahill working on the deal and sending it to the client.” Another gave an extreme example: “On a busy day I usually receive 500 to 600 emails. When you represent several banks at the same time, the work really piles up.”
Corporate clients: Merrill Lynch, Citigroup, Morgan Stanley. In the last year, Cahill represented JP Morgan on $19 billion worth of capital markets deals.
In litigation, associates are likely to work on “securities and antitrust cases.” And with “a few former US Attorneys” wandering the halls, associates had access to “a bit of criminal work.” The firm also has a strong reputation for its First Amendment work, but associates don’t expect to get exposure to it: “It’s very difficult to get staffed on it; you’ve got to be both lucky and good.” Sources said junior tasks in litigation “vary associate by associate. I know a lot who do doc review, but I do good amounts of research and writing.” Another said “the vast majority do discovery work.” Do litigators get the same volume of emails as their counterparts in corporate? “Good god no! I can have a very busy day and have five emails that day,” said our source. “If you’re getting a lot of emails something is wrong!” They’re still a busy bunch, of course. One associate told us: “I’m on about 15 different active cases!”
Litigation clients: Pharmaceutical companies Bausch Health and Ligand Pharmaceuticals, cruise companies Carnival Corporation and Princess Cruise Lines, former KPMG executive Thomas Whittle. Cahill advised Tesla after CEO Elon Musk was charged by the SEC with securities fraud.
Both groups operate with a free-market work allocation system, but our sources said: “You’re normally asked to do work by someone higher up,” and it’s up to the individual to say yes or no. Can you say no? “It’s impressed upon you that you shouldn’t say no,” said one source, with another adding: “You’d have to demonstrate why you don’t have time.” But some were unconcerned: “I often say no and the people I’ve turned down do come back to me.” Another source thought that “you get more comfortable saying no when you’re slammed.”
Culture, Hours & Compensation
In a way that compares to several New York firms at this level, Cahill associates said: “You’re expected to be on call all the time.” So if you’re considering Cahill, associates said it’s crucial to understand the importance of independence: “It’s up to you to know when to stop working – they trust you to self-regulate,” explained one. “People who think that someone else will tell you to slow down are going to have a tough time here.” Another corporate source added: “I carry my laptop on the weekends and you learn to be creative about where and how you work. I’ve invested in a lot of backpacks since I started.”
We asked Jonathan Schaffzin about how the firm balances and manages this demanding environment. “We find our associates quickly rise to the challenge of responding to clients and colleagues while working on exceptionally interesting matters and Cahill takes pride that we provide our lawyers support and flexibility to strike a rewarding work-life balance.”
"I’ve gone on vacations with some of them, which I really wasn’t expecting.”
Some of the litigators didn’t have it quite so bad: “If you get an email past 8 or 9pm it’s because you’re expecting one. It’s very rare that I’ll get a call on a weekend – it’s happened maybe twice in a year.” But they weren’t all exempt: “I just took my first weekend off in three months,” said one exhausted litigator. “I really enjoy my work, but I just want a nap all the time.” We feel you, buddy. The firm doesn’t have a billable hours requirement but both groups told a similar story: “We all vaguely shoot for 2,000 and see how it goes.”
At Cahill, hard work means top pay. On top of a New York market-rate salary, the firm has two longstanding bonuses, one which everyone receives and another discretionary merit-based one (the firm told us that 90% of attorneys receive this one too). And because of the culture of being omni-available, vacation time is “taken very seriously.” Day to day, associates felt that “the firm tries to make it livable. If the client is like, ‘let’s do a call at 7am on a Saturday,’ the partners will push back.” Several interviewees also noted that “partners are routinely pulling all-nighters” alongside the associates. Even with the firm’s emphasis on autonomy, “it’s easy to speak to partners. No one’s pretentious or hard to reach.” Several associates identified their colleagues as “one of the main reasons to stick around. I’ve gone on vacations with some of them, which I really wasn’t expecting.” With such busy schedules it came as no surprise that “we don’t socialize much,” but associates said: “When we do have events like happy hour, we can let our hair down and people aren’t so uptight.”
Career Development & Diversity
In an autonomous environment, “it’s great that no one is checking up on you,” said one source, “but feedback is lacking. Unless someone tells that you’re terrible, you’re fine. No one’s fired me, so it must be OK!” Few of our sources were interested in staying at Cahill for the long term, and some did cite the “brutal” hours as a factor. Our interviewees were wise to the link between long hours and mental health, describing it as “a growing conversation” at the firm.
Sources said the firm doesn’t have “a ton of female partners or senior associates,” and it was a similar story for ethnic minorities. It’s an endemic problem in BigLaw and the firm isn’t ignoring it: “This year we did a series of workshops through the Ongoing Leader Development Program.” As well as several women's initiative committees, the firm has affinity groups for African Americans, Asian Americans, Hispanics and LGBTQ people. There’s also a working parents group, but this associate’s assessment was blunt: “If you’re a fifth-year female associate and you’re thinking of having a kid, you’re thinking of postponing becoming partner."
In fact, associates thought making partner was generally an “unlikely” prospect, but the numbers aren’t completely disheartening, with associates outnumbering partners by less than three to one. Fortunately, “great exit opportunities” await anyone who decides to move on – going in-house with banks was thought to be a common destination.
Officially, associates can bill all pro bono toward the annual target, but as this associate put it, “de jure it counts the same way, but de facto it doesn’t. But they do encourage it heavily!” While both litigation and corporate associates are “really encouraged” to take on pro bono projects, one candid corporate source told us: “I have no pro bono hours and don’t plan on having any – corporate doesn’t normally do it.”
”But they do encourage it heavily!”
The firm works with Sanctuary for Families with victims of domestic violence and sex trafficking. There was even a bit of criminal work on offer – “I’m currently doing a case on gangs.” On the corporate side, several sources spoke about the firm’s association with Veterans’ New Business Initiative, which provides legal advice to army vets setting up new businesses.
Pro bono hours
- For all (US) attorneys: undisclosed
- Average per (US) attorney: undisclosed
“We try to grow organically, and try not to make big bets; the firm is very disciplined financially."
Strategy & Future
Going forward, Schaffzin says the firm remains committed to doing what it does best. “We have opportunities to extend our business with new clients in areas that fit with what we already do and to offer existing clients additional services,” he told us. “We try to grow organically, and try not to make big bets; the firm is very disciplined financially."
- Cahill has suspended its 2020 summer program.
- Would-be summer associates will be paid in full and receive offers for full-time employment after graduation in 2021.
- They can also participate in the firm's pro bono work voluntarily.
The first stage: recruitment on and off campus
OCI applicants interviewed: undisclosed
Interviewees outside OCI: undisclosed
Cahill partners conduct OCIs as well as interviews at job fairs. “Every resume we receive is reviewed thoughtfully,” says chair of the hiring committee Sheila Ramesh. “A hallmark of our process is the amount of time and energy we put into this – after all, this is all about identifying the best possible future for everyone involved.”
Transparency is key as far as Cahill is concerned. “It is such a fast process, and we focus on being as transparent as possible,” says Ramesh. “We are really looking for students to do the same so that the dialogue moves as quickly as the process.” Associates confirmed the firm wants “someone that can explain something on their resume – if you had a really bad class first semester but you’re willing to explain that upfront, that shows that you’ve taken it upon yourself to improve.”
Top tips for this stage:
“We are always looking to see excitement around our work and our culture.” – chair of hiring committee Sheila Ramesh
Applicants invited to second stage interview: undisclosed
Candidates meet with two partners and two associates at the callback stage, with each interview lasting approximately 30 minutes. “We really work hard to create interview schedules that will allow each candidate to learn as much as possible about the firm,” Ramesh says. The panel could include junior associates, who say they look for “people who are entrepreneurial and seem to want to take control of their career.” Associates say candidates should “inquire about the firm’s culture and try and figure out if it’s something you like.”
Top tips for this stage:
“Don’t feel the need to do a ton of research about the people you’re interviewing with, but have an understanding of the firm and ask questions specific to the firm.” – a third-year junior associate
“Take your time, be thoughtful, and really work to determine where you think you will truly thrive as a new professional.” – chair of hiring committee Sheila Ramesh
Summer associates can sample work across Cahill’s practice groups, “and they will have the support of their mentors every step of the way to do so.” Associates said that this was their experience not only as a summer, but also after returning full time: “There have been a couple of times when partners have called me and said, ‘My mentee is interested in securities, I know you’re on this case, is there anything they can help out with?’” The majority of summers return to the firm: “They select their practice area of interest, and we honor that.”
Top tips for this stage:
“Because of the free-market system, you really have to show that you can put yourself out there both personally and in terms of work.” – a third-year junior associate
“Carpe diem! There is so much to get involved in, and there are so many people who are so excited to share what they know and teach you how to be successful. Don’t hesitate to try new things, meet new people and ask questions.” – chair of hiring committee Sheila Ramesh
“Cahill is a New York-based firm, so showing that you actually want to be in New York is important!” – a third-year junior associate
Interview with executive committee member Jonathan Schaffzin
Chambers Associate: How would you describe Cahill's current market position to our readers?
Jonathan Schaffzin: We continue to focus on our strong financial institution client base in both our transactional and litigation practices. Cahill’s corporate strengths are in finance, both lending and capital markets; we’re particularly strongly positioned in the leveraged finance arena. In litigation, we've built substantial white-collar and regulatory practices and have a growing securities litigation practice. Many of our corporate clients come to us with investigation and regulatory issues and we’re very well positioned to help them.
We have opportunities to extend our business with new clients in areas that fit with what we already do and to offer existing clients additional services. We try to grow organically and try not to make big bets; the firm is very disciplined financially. Generally, we try to play to our strengths and are prepared to consider new growth opportunities, especially when client-driven. For example, geographically, we’re in London because we have clients desiring our counsel on problems that need to be solved on both sides of the Atlantic; on the other hand, in other jurisdictions, we choose to partner with best-in-class local firms to deliver the best advice across the board.
“We feel like we have opportunities to extend our business with new clients in areas that fit with what we already do.”
CA: Which practices have been performing especially well recently?
JS: Capital markets and all forms of lending across the financial spectrum, as well as our regulatory and white-collar practices.
CA: Is President Trump’s foreign policy and retreat from globalism having an impact on the work you’re doing?
JS: We’re having a good year. It may be that the current climate is having an impact on certain companies, but it hasn’t changed behaviors in terms of our practice at this point.
CA: According to recent findings, 42% of summer associates are worried about mental health issues in BigLaw. How is Cahill addressing these issues?
JS: We are very fortunate in the sense that we are not a 1,000-lawyer firm stretched across the globe and most of our attorneys are based in New York. We have employee assistance programs and, at our size, we are able to pay close attention to our team’s concerns and address any problems. Mental health is a huge industry-wide issue and individual issues can undoubtedly be impacted by the stress and long hours that can accompany high-stakes legal matters.
“I’ve probably had more conversations about ‘why haven’t you had a free weekend this month?’ than ‘why aren’t you busy?’”
At Cahill, we want there to be no stigma surrounding mental health issues and want our people to speak out if they’re struggling. One of the nice things about Cahill is its supportive environment – I’ve probably had more conversations with associates about ‘why haven’t you had a free weekend this month?’ than ‘why aren’t you busy?’ The law can be a tough environment and we’re aware of that. When I was at junior associate level few people paid attention to how long I worked, but we’re now trying to be aware of what people are doing and monitor hours and workloads in terms of impacts at both a personal and professional level.
CA: We’ve heard from interviewees across the legal industry about the struggle to have a family while practicing as a lawyer, and its effect on the gender gap at a senior level across firms. What are your thoughts on this?
JS: The firm is focused on improving its gender gap and has been for years. When we’re recruiting junior associate classes we typically hire at least as many women as men. Practicing law at this level is a tough job and requires a lot of hours, which can seem incompatible with one’s life goals at times, so Cahill has implemented family-friendly policies and best-in-practice offerings. Most importantly, on an individual level, we are at a size where it is possible to be flexible and responsive to individual needs, whether it’s an associate or a partner.
In terms of retaining lawyers, sticking with one organization long term has become less common across the industry regardless of gender. I think a lot of people don’t come into a workplace thinking ‘this is where I’m going to be for the rest of my career,’ and instead they adopt a wait-and-see attitude. When I look at our existing associates, we have very strong partner candidates and we’ve not seen a diminishing number of people who want to stay on to be partners, but recent generations have prioritized work/life balance more heavily and we appreciate that. I think Cahill remains a pleasurable place to work, the stress and long hours notwithstanding, because of our people, size and focus.
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Cahill Gordon & Reindel LLP
32 Old Slip,
- Head Office: New York, NY
- Number of domestic offices: 2
- Number of international offices: 1
- Worldwide revenue: $387,800,000
- Partners (US): 67
- Associates (US): 172
- Main recruitment contact: Donna Manion, Director of Legal Recruiting and Personnel (dmanion @cahill.com)
- Hiring partner: Sheila C. Ramesh
- Diversity officers: Ann Creed and Stuart Downing
- Recruitment details
- Entry-level associates starting in 2020: 27
- Clerking policy: Yes
- Summers joining/anticipated 2020: 2Ls: 30
- Summers joining/anticipated 2020 split by office: NY: 30
- Summer salary 2020: 2Ls: $3,654/week
- Split summers offered? Yes, with government or public agencies.
- Can summers spend time in an overseas office? No
Main areas of work
Widely recognized as the leading law firm in leveraged finance, and with a nationally recognized litigation practice, our clients entrust us with the most sophisticated and challenging matters. Building on over a century of excellence, our corporate, corporate finance, litigation, and investigations practices continue to be market leaders with some of the most celebrated practices in the industry.
We also offer premier practices in antitrust, bankruptcy and restructuring, communications, corporate governance, crisis advisory, executive compensation and employee benefits, environmental, insurance, intellectual property, media, pro bono, real estate, tax, trusts and estates, and white collar and regulatory enforcement.
Cahill has thrived for nearly a century by focusing on the most significant opportunities and complex legal challenges facing leading financial institutions and global businesses. Cahill is a firm where you can shape your own legal career. We believe that lawyers who practice in diverse areas are happier and more productive. We do not require immediate specialization and do not have formal departments or rotation policies. While among the most profitable New York-based law firms, our size is conducive to regular interaction between partners and associates. Opportunities abound for interesting work and unparalleled on-the-job training.
Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2020:
Albany, Boston College, Boston University, Brooklyn, Columbia, Cornell, Duke, Fordham, Georgetown, George Washington, Harvard, New York University, Northwestern, University of Michigan, University of Pennsylvania and University of Virginia (with job fairs and write-ins from a dozen more).
Recruitment outside OCIs:
As a complement to our campus interview process, we review all additional direct submissions. We encourage candidates interested in our firm to contact us with inquiries about our Summer Program and associate opportunities.
Summer associate profile:
The firm seeks academically strong candidates who display good judgment, self-confidence and enthusiasm for the practice of law.
Summer program components:
Summer associates at Cahill gain first-hand experience of what it would be like to be an associate at Cahill. With substantive assignments and opportunities to gain valuable public interest work experience and attend client meetings, negotiations, court appearances and networking events, Cahill’s summer associates develop a true understanding of the firm’s practice. Formal and informal training, personal mentoring and comprehensive evaluations are components of the firm’s summer program.
Recruitment website: www.cahill.com/careers
This Firm's Rankings in
USA Guide, 2020
- Antitrust (Band 4)
- Environment: Mainly Transactional (Band 2)
- Insurance: Dispute Resolution: Insurer (Band 3)
- Litigation: General Commercial: The Elite (Band 4)
- Litigation: Securities (Band 4)
- Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations (Band 4)
- Media & Entertainment: First Amendment Litigation (Band 2)
- Tax (Band 4)
USA - Nationwide
- Banking & Finance (Band 1)
- Capital Markets: Equity: Manager Counsel (Band 3)
- Capital Markets: High-Yield Products (Band 1)
- Capital Markets: Investment Grade Debt: Manager Counsel (Band 3)
- Insurance: Dispute Resolution: Insurer (Band 2)
Visit Cahill's careers page for more information.