Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP - The Inside View

New York-founded BigLaw firm seeks “three-dimensional individuals” to undertake “quality international work” while also enhancing its “trademark collegiality.”

Granted, no firm actually has a patent on being ‘collegial’, but eager interviewees at Cleary were keen to make clear: “Cleary has a reputation for being more diverse, for people having interests outside of law, and for having a collaborative atmosphere.” Multiple sources felt it was the people at Cleary that made this big New Yorker stand out in its densely populated field. One source recalled: “I was looking for people who weren’t just trying to get their pound of flesh but wanted to invest in me and see me grow as a young attorney. I got that impression from Cleary.” That’s not to say it’s a walk in the park here – Cleary is still a Wall Street law firm that expects “commitment to doing the absolute best work at all times,” but associates appreciated that the firm “very much cares about us and our learning.” Anotherexplained “I’m constantly amazed by the brilliant work ethic of my colleagues, but also, you don’t get people coming in with attitudes or being obnoxious. People here are humble, down to earth, and quietly killing it.”

"People here are humble, down to earth, and quietly killing it.”

Objectively speaking, the firm is more than ‘quietly’ killing it. Cleary’s “excellent reputation, not only in New York, but around the world” was one of the largest draws for young attorneys. The firm racks up 15 global-wide rankings in Chambers Global (with particularly impressive marks in competition/antitrust, capital markets, corporate/M&A, and dispute resolution) as well as numerous rankings across 18 separate global jurisdictions. With 14 international offices (alongside its New York and DC bases in the US), Cleary is “a truly global firm. Some American firms have international offices that are more like satellite offices, but Cleary’s are really part of the firm.” Cleary was something of a pioneer among the US firms in creating its European network. On home turf, Cleary collects more rankings than we have wordcount to list, but a few of its best nationwide accolades include antitrust, capital markets, employee benefits & executive compensation, corporate/M&A, tax, securities regulation, investment funds: private equity fund formation, and corporate crime & investigations.

Cleary made the US top 25 for Associate Satisfaction in our annual research>

The Work

The vast majority of Cleary juniors on our list were based in New York, while just over a dozen took to the firm’s smaller DC base. Associates are fairly evenly split between the firm’s litigation/arbitration and corporate groups; the latter contains various subgroups including capital markets, M&A, and private funds. Smaller numbers of juniors join practices including antitrust, tax, bankruptcy, debt finance, and real estate (among several others). Most groups reported having a centralized staffing system for work assignment, explaining that “they work in tandem with the professional development team and are aware of what kind of matters you’ve already done, what your preferences are, and which areas you haven’t been exposed to.” Interviewees appreciated having “someone who is monitoring our development.”

Cleary’s formidable litigation/arbitration group covers the full gamut, including general commercial matters, securities litigation, white-collar enforcement, and civil litigation. One source highlighted working on “the criminal end of white-collar enforcement,” as well as “the administrative end of actions and investigations being done by the DOJ or other regulatory bodies.” Interviewees also listed “fraud cases, contract disputes, class actions, and a fair amount of appellate work,” of which “at least half has been international in focus.” For junior litigators, the day-to-day involved tasks such as “preparing interview, helping write interview memos, and keeping cases organized,” as well as “drafting argument outlines” and occasionally drafting sections of the actual arguments. As juniors progressed to more midlevel responsibilities, they noted “now managing people both above and below you.” To get accustomed to this, interviewees appreciated being “given useful trainings on both how to give juniors feedback as well as how to be useful to seniors.” Across the board, litigators we surveyed highly rated their contact time with partners as well as their desire to develop their career in this practice.

Litigation clients: HSBC, Manbro Energy Corporation, and T-Mobile US. Recently represented car manufacturer Nissan in regulatory investigations regarding executive compensation issues over the arrest of former CEO Carlos Ghosn.

“Cleary is keen to transition people out of diligence and onto drafting.”

The mergers & acquisitions group covers all the classics: “We do private equity M&A, public M&A, strategic M&A, and corporate governance work.” The group also covers both sides of the aisle, dabbling in both buyer and seller-side transactions, with an equally broad spectrum of clients: “We have known, Fortune 500 clients, as well as smaller private equity shops.” At the junior end, interviewees admitted doing a fair bit of due diligence, but also noted that “Cleary is keen to transition people out of diligence and onto drafting.” One source added “as you go up, they give you any opportunity they can to get you drafting – they’re keen to get you learning, and you learn by doing.” In particular, sources had tried their hand at drafting operating agreements, transaction services agreements, and “a whole sweep of corporate governance documents.” More generally, juniors on the team appreciated the chance to do “deals with bigger teams where you can learn things together and bounce ideas off each other,” as well as the chance to work on “some deals where it’s just you and the partner.”

M&A clients: National Amusements, General Mills, and American Express. Recently represented OpenText in its tender offer (a total of $1.42 billion) for all listed shares of Carbonite – provider of cloud-based subscription data protection.

Other popular transactional practices included capital markets, private funds, and debt finance. Private funds folks mentioned “work on forming private equity funds” as well as “representing investors in other private equity funds” and “helping the funds operate if they have any issues over the course of their lives.” Those who’d taken to capital markets got involved in “issuer counsel for bond/equity offerings” as well as a bit of corporate restructuring for some companies. Interviewees had “drafted underwriter agreements, indentures, and descriptions of notes included in offering documents.” Others mentioned participating in conference calls with clients and revising documents being worked on. One source reflected that they were “shocked by the amount of responsibility – even as a first-year I was in charge of full communications with the client and coordinating with all sets of local counsel.” 

Transactional clients: The Carlyle Group, Liberty Mutual, and Starbucks. Recently represented Alphabet, the parent company of Google, in its first sustainability bond, of $5.75 billion.

Career Development

The firm has recently started “bringing together the people who look at staffing needs and the people who look at professional development, making sure those teams talk.” This helps ensure associates get a broad range of experiences to strengthen their skill set. The firm also recently introduced a pilot mentoring system in its corporate groups, where “every associate up to their fourth year is assigned two to three partner mentors. 50% of your time is meant to be working with those partners so they can see you developing and look out for you.” The firm hopes to launch this mentoring scheme in other groups once feedback has been collected on the pilot program. As for formal training, when associates first start they undertake a “mini MBA which is two weeks of getting immersed in the type of work you’ll do at the firm,” followed by “continual learning throughout the year – there’s usually a program every couple of weeks to attend.”

“The name definitely carries prestige as a big Wall Street firm, particularly in the international context.”

Interviewees were also enamored by the firm’s name value: “I talked to a recruiter before deciding between law firms, and they said if you go to a firm like Cleary (or Skadden, or Wachtell), it’ll open doors to you.” Another interviewee added “the name definitely carries prestige as a big Wall Street firm, particularly in the international context.” Although our interviewees had no plans to move on at the time of research, one noted that “if I did move on, the prestige would definitely help. The firm also does a good job of connecting you with people in different fields through their alumni.”

Cleary made the US top 25 for career development in our annual research>

Pro Bono

“It’s pretty weird for someone to not be doing any pro bono…” one interviewee reflected. “I can’t think of anyone who’s done none.” All sources were in agreement that the firm is “very, very committed” to pro bono, and added that there’s “a huge variety of matters” one could get involved in. A sample of this variety included “working on a merger for a nonprofit company,” some “legislative advice projects,” “helping in criminal defense cases,”“juvenile resentencing cases” and “helping out on a hotline for voting protection.” One source also flagged that Cleary is working alongside the Clooney Foundation for Justice on their initiative, TrialWatch, focused on monitoring trials around the world that risk human rights violations. Interviewees emphasized that “the firm very much respects people working on pro bono matters and treats it like any other billable matter – no way is it put to the bottom or ranked lower.” In this respect, there’s no cap on pro bono hours (although the firm doesn’t have a billable hour requirement either).  And the number speak for themselves: Cleary joins the elite group of firms billing over 100 hours on average per attorney, and associates rate the firm in the top 25 in the US for pro bono commitment, according to our research.

Pro bono hours

  • Total across all US offices: 61,432
  • Average per US attorney: 114

Hours & Compensation

Billable hours: no requirement

With no official (or unofficial) billing target, sources admitted that attorney hours “can really vary.” Our survey with associates asked them to estimate their total hours worked in their last full working week, and the Cleary average came in at 60 hours, which is about five hours above the US market average. “I don’t feel like I have adequate time for all of my personal life, but I do think I generally have enough time to sleep, get in a workout, have dinner, and do some social things.” It's a familiar BigLaw story and a reality of the job at the elite end. Despite the pretty heavy hours, one interviewee explained “it’s a trade-off for a job that’s stimulating and fascinating. It’s not a job where you count down the days until the weekend, and that’s an incredible thing to have.”

“It’s a trade-off for a job that’s stimulating and fascinating."

Another product of not having a billing requirement meant “you will get paid no matter what.” Bonuses are “standard across each class,” plus sources also mentioned that in 2020 the firm gave out an additional ‘special bonus’ on top of the regular year-end bonus.


“If we had to be a New York borough, we’d 100% be Brooklyn – we are professionals, but we’re a little bit hipster!”

“Cleary elicits a reputation of being quirkier, more personable, and sort of artsy. It’s pretty rare when you talk to someone that you’ll be talking about the law. People are very chill – they have lives and other interests which can run the gamut.” Multiple sources described the firm culture as ‘chilled’, to the point where one source even said “if we had to be a New York borough, we’d 100% be Brooklyn – we are professionals, but we’re a little bit hipster!” Juniors across the board appreciated that “Cleary values individuals” and that it “genuinely cares about you as a person in your entirety, not just as an attorney.” Of course, being a good attorney is also vital to the survival of the firm, and on that front, interviewees admitted “it’s certainly fast-paced – there are fire drills, but the attitude from the top is like ‘Don’t worry, we’ll get it done.’” Collaboration is the name of the game and sources emphasized that “it’s a real community where people try to help each other. You’re expected to give people credit for the work they do. Being cutthroat is not encouraged.”

Diversity & Inclusion

Juniors felt that Cleary was “on the right track” when it came to its diversity efforts. “Cleary has been doing a very good job with recruitment – incoming classes are always more women than men, and usually a third to half diverse,” sources assessed. “But as you get up the ranks, I don’t know what happens but it’s not as diverse.” To address these issues, the firm has “a huge diversity department” which “makes sure diverse voices are being heard.” Discussions also take place through the firm’s various affinity groups and committees focused on “getting diverse candidates progressing up the ladder.” In particular, sources praised the firm’s Women’s Working Group, which hosts various activities such as training sessions and networking events. We also heard that the firm has been implementing several wellbeing initiatives, including virtual programs to mark Mental Health Awareness month, monthly newsletters and mental health first responder training.

Cleary is a consistently committed performer on DE&I: this year the firm made our US top 25 for DE&I performance>

Get Hired

The first stage: recruitment on and off campus 

OCI applicants interviewed: undisclosed

Interviewees outside OCI: undisclosed

“We visit a wide range of schools across the country in search of academically strong and intellectually curious candidates who are enthusiastic about practicing law,” hiring partner Elizabeth Lenas tells us. A large percentage of the firm’s summer associate hiring is done through on-campus programs, but the firm “also participates in resume collection programs, and even accepts direct applications online.”  

Lenas explains that the “the number of students we meet on campus varies from year to year and is generally related to the size of the law school class and our summer program size.” On-campus interviews are typically held by senior lawyers from the firm but Cleary also “sometimes hosts hospitality suites on campus that are staffed with a variety of associates and summer associates who are alums of the law schools we visit as well as new associates who will be joining the firm.” 

Interviews follow a standard format: “Candidates can expect to be asked about their interests as well as well as academic and work experiences.” Lenas adds that “knowing information about firm practices and/or clients is key. Additionally,

Top tips for this stage:

"Having knowledge about the marketplace by reading the Wall Street Journal and/or related publications can be helpful. Please remember to be yourself and always engage the interviewer!” - hiring partner Elizabeth Lenas


Applicants invited to second stage interview: undisclosed

Successful candidates can expect to meet up to six attorneys during their callback interview, though Lenas points out that “if they opt for a lunch or coffee, they will meet additional junior associates. Each candidate’s schedule is tailored to their interests, so candidates can select who they would like to meet with, whether it be people from a particular practice area, gender, race, sexual orientation, etc. We do our best to ensure that we connect candidates to our lawyers with similar interests.” Lenas outlines six skills the firm is looking to identify in candidates including: “leadership ability, client service orientation, grit, effective communication, collegiality and intellectual ability.”

Top tips for this stage:

"Enjoy the process! This is an awesome chance to meet with a large number of lawyers to expand your network.” - hiring partner Elizabeth Lenas

Summer Program

Offers: undisclosed

Acceptances: undisclosed

Summer associates are free to sample work from multiple practice areas, including Cleary’s pool of pro bono projects. “Since there are no formal rotations, summer associates may explore different practices without being required to move between prescribed groups.” Lenas expands: “We want our summer associates to have a realistic experience and be prepared for life as a junior associate. Therefore, we have a strong focus on intensive training programs throughout the summer. In addition to twice-weekly summer lunches hosted by the different practice groups, summer associates will attend a corporate training seminar that provides an understanding of transactional practice areas, and a litigation training that provides a foundation in key advocacy skills, discovery skills, and substantive areas of law that are central to the practice.” 

And Finally… 

summer associates have the opportunity to spend four weeks in one of Cleary’s overseas offices, “a unique opportunity to experience first-hand the worldwide Cleary culture and global reach of our firm.” 


Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP

One Liberty Plaza,
New York,
NY 10006

  • Head Offices: New York, NY and Washington, DC
  • Number of domestic offices: 2
  • Number of international offices: 14
  • Partners (US): 99
  • Associates (US): 427
  • Contacts 
  • Main recruitment contacts: Donna Harris (US) (
  • Hiring partners: Abena Mainoo (NY) and Elaine Ewing (DC)
  • Diversity officers: Jennifer Kennedy Park (NY), and - Alexis Collins (DC)
  • Recruitment details 
  • Entry-level associates starting in 2020: 98
  • Clerking policy: Yes
  • Summers joining/anticipated 2021: 1Ls: 7, 2Ls: 82, SEO: 4
  • Summers joining/anticipated 2021 split by office: NY: 73, DC: 39
  • Summer salary 2020: 1Ls/2Ls: $3,654/week
  • Split summers offered? Yes
  • Can summers spend time in an overseas office? Yes

Main areas of work
Antitrust, banking and financial institutions, bankruptcy and restructuring, capital markets, corporate governance, cybersecurity and privacy, derivatives, economic sanctions and foreign investments, energy, environmental, executive compensation and ERISA, financial technology, global crisis management, intellectual property, investment funds, international arbitration, international trade and investment, leveraged and acquisition finance, litigation and arbitration, mergers, acquisitions and joint ventures, private clients, private equity, private funds, pro bono, project finance and infrastructure, public international law, real estate, securities and M&A litigation, sovereign governments and international institutions, structured finance, tax, white-collar defense and internal investigations.

Firm profile
Cleary Gottlieb is a pioneer in globalizing the legal profession. Since 1946, its lawyers and staff have worked across practices, industries, jurisdictions and continents to provide clients with simple, actionable approaches to their most complex legal and business challenges. The firm has 16 offices in major financial centers around the world. However, it operates as a single, integrated global partnership, not a US firm with a network of overseas locations. The firm is fluent in the many languages of local and global business, and Cleary’s consistent success in multiple jurisdictions earned Cleary Chambers and Partners’ inaugural “International Law Firm of the Year” award. The firm employs approximately 1,300 lawyers from more than 50 countries and diverse backgrounds who are admitted to practice in numerous jurisdictions. Cleary was among the first international law firms to hire and promote non-US lawyers as equal partners around the world.

Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2021:
Alabama, Arizona, Boston College, Boston University, Brooklyn, Cardozo, Chicago, Columbia, Cornell, Duke, Emory, Florida, Fordham, George Mason, George Washington, Georgetown, Georgia, Harvard, Howard, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Lavender Law Career Fair, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, New York Law School, NYU, Northwestern, Notre Dame, Ohio State, University of Pennsylvania, Stanford, Texas, Tulane, Washington University, Washington and Lee, William and Mary, Wisconsin, UC Berkeley, UCLA, USC Gould, Vanderbilt, Virginia, Yale

Summer associate profile:
The firm seeks candidates who are confident in their abilities and creative in their thinking. It looks for academically strong candidates of all races and nationalities who are enthusiastic about practicing law. The firm place a premium on openness, diversity, individuality and collegiality and look for candidates who do so as well.

Summer program components:
Summer program components: The summer program is designed to provide summer associates with real world preparation to jump-start a successful legal career. The firm offers summer associates the flexibility to enjoy assignments in many practice areas or to focus on a particular discipline. The summer program consists of formal and informal training, partner and associate mentoring, optional overseas office rotations, pro bono work, comprehensive evaluations and social/networking events.

Social media
Recruitment website:
Linkedin: cleary-gottlieb-steen-&-hamilton-llp
Twitter: @ClearyGottlieb
Facebook: Cleary-Gottlieb-Steen-Hamilton

This Firm's Rankings in
USA Guide, 2021

Ranked Departments

    • Antitrust (Band 1)
    • Banking & Finance (Band 4)
    • Bankruptcy/Restructuring: The Elite (Band 3)
    • Corporate/M&A: The Elite (Band 2)
    • Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation (Band 1)
    • Litigation: General Commercial: The Elite (Band 2)
    • Litigation: Securities (Band 3)
    • Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations: The Elite (Band 1)
    • Private Equity: Buyouts (Band 3)
    • Real Estate: Mainly Corporate & Finance (Band 1)
    • Tax (Band 1)
    • Antitrust (Band 1)
    • Antitrust: Cartel (Band 1)
    • Banking & Finance (Band 4)
    • Bankruptcy/Restructuring: The Elite (Band 3)
    • Capital Markets: Equity: Issuer Counsel (Band 2)
    • Capital Markets: High-Yield Debt (Band 4)
    • Capital Markets: Investment Grade Debt: Issuer Counsel (Band 2)
    • Capital Markets: Investment Grade Debt: Manager Counsel (Band 2)
    • Capital Markets: Securitization: CLOs (Band 2)
    • Capital Markets: Structured Products (Band 2)
    • Corporate Crime & Investigations: The Elite (Band 2)
    • Corporate/M&A: The Elite (Band 2)
    • Derivatives (Band 1)
    • Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation (Band 2)
    • Energy: Mining & Metals (Transactional) (Band 1)
    • Financial Services Regulation: Banking (Compliance) (Band 2)
    • Financial Services Regulation: Banking (Enforcement & Investigations) (Band 3)
    • Financial Services Regulation: Broker Dealer (Compliance & Enforcement) (Band 4)
    • Financial Services Regulation: Financial Institutions M&A (Band 3)
    • International Arbitration: Enforcement Spotlight Table
    • International Arbitration: The Elite (Band 3)
    • International Trade: CFIUS Experts (Band 4)
    • International Trade: Export Controls & Economic Sanctions (Band 5)
    • Private Equity: Buyouts: High-end Capability (Band 4)
    • Private Equity: Fund Formation (Band 2)
    • Real Estate (Band 3)
    • Securities: Litigation (Band 4)
    • Securities: Regulation: Advisory (Band 1)
    • Securities: Regulation: Enforcement (Band 2)
    • Tax: Corporate & Finance (Band 1)