Covington & Burling LLP - The Inside View

Home to several government workers, this DC native combines leading regulatory work with (Coving)tons of pro bono.

The White House is the place Covington calls home... almost! It’s only around the corner, and the firm’s close contact with the government is more than just geographical. Covington’s government and regulatory expertise has only grown since it was founded over 100 years ago, as has its headcount. The firm has now expanded across the US and internationally, with six domestic offices and eight more across the globe. Covington’s “excellent reputation” was a constant theme among the associates we interviewed, and our colleagues over at Chambers USA can back this up. The firm earns 21 top rankings from our sister guide, including elite status for its nationwide corporate crime & investigations, government contracts, product liability & mass torts and export controls international trade groups. One junior described how Covington is “very intentional about expansion” so, despite its large and prestigious international footprint, the firm is still a superpower in its hometown.

“Our enforcement and white-collar practices are what we’re known for.”

It helps that several partners in its DC HQ came from government roles to lead Covington’s regulatory and policy practices. “Even our transactional work tends to be more skewed toward highly regulated sectors,” an interviewee explained, “That regulatory strength helps attract new clients across practice groups.” It might seem easy to feel like a small fish in such a large, well-known pond, but interviewees explained that Covington, even from the interview stage, always felt like “a very warm, genuine place.” One was comforted by the lack of an “eat what you kill philosophy – it's a far more equalized playing field in terms of earnings.” It’s certainly a hard-working environment, but not without balance. A starry-eyed associate told us, “It’s a great place to work, and I can see myself here for a long time. BigLaw’s hard anywhere, but I’ve found it manageable here.”

The Work

Covington’s DC HQ takes on the lion’s share of associates, followed by its offices in New York and California. Most juniors worked in litigation, with the rest in the firm’s regulatory and corporate departments. Matters are often centrally assigned by a coordinator based on associate availability. However, work also comes directly from partners: “If you’re in a particular practice area and partners know you’re interested, they’ll email you with matters you’d be interested in.”

The firm’s regulatory practice encompasses a wide range of focuses, including antitrust, CFIUS (the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States), employment, and financial services. “Our enforcement and white-collar practices are what we’re known for,” one associate explained, “but we’ve also made a name for ourselves helping a lot of fintech companies navigate regimes.” Several former FTX employees approached Covington for advice following its collapse. It’s novel, high-profile matters such as these that define much of the work that juniors take part in.

“You might be a fly on the wall elsewhere, but I get to do substantive work.”

Juniors typically spend their time researching statutes and regulations, but there are opportunities for more substantive work. Juniors in CFIUS explained that teams are leanly staffed, and the group “prides itself on giving juniors exposure. You might be a fly on the wall elsewhere, but I get to do substantive work.” Another associate added that the core CFIUS junior task is to take charge of deadlines, which can get hectic when multiple filings are going on. “A partner could lose so much time before a deadline by missing an email. It’s the associate’s job to monitor, keep clients in the loop, and bring partners in as they free up.”

Regulatory clients: Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, Mitsubishi United Financial Group. Defended against Trump’s efforts to ban TikTok.

Covington’s litigation department is equally broad, including patent, insurance, life sciences, commercial, and white-collar litigation. Interviewees mentioned how there’s a chance to go to trial as a first-year, which includes research, collating the facts, and working on post-trial briefings. On civil litigation matters, the junior’s role might involve motions practice and drafting, “but we’re also trusted to be the subject matter expert on certain issues.” According to interviewees, there’s plenty of expert witness and client interaction, which was a pleasant surprise for some: “I was thinking, ‘you’re letting me communicate with the outside world??’”

Litigation clients: Uber Technologies, Anheuser-Busch InBev, Suffolk County District Attorney. Represented the NFL in three separate lawsuits concerning the relocations of the Rams, the Raiders and the Chargers.

M&A and life sciences are central to Covington’s corporate practice. M&A work involves a lot of due diligence, and liaising with specialists and other parties’ counsel. Lean staffing means you can get plenty of early responsibility. For instance, juniors in life sciences often take the first stab at drafting parts of agreements and, “even though you’re not drafting entire sections, you play a key role in what the document looks like.” There’s less research on these matters, as “clients usually help us out with getting the technical details. It’s more collaborative.” One interviewee mentioned how there are multiple opportunities to “feel like you’re really part of the team and understand how things are interconnected on a matter.”

Corporate clients: AstraZeneca, Santander Consumer, Borrego Solar Systems. Represented Merck & Co. in its $11.5 billion acquisition of Acceleron Pharma.

Pro Bono

Covington does more pro bono per attorney than any other firm in our guide, so it’s no exaggeration to call it a firm priority. It doesn’t hurt that it's unlimited and all billable. Interviewees explained that it's treated the same as billable work, with the only difference being that “you can spend more time researching on pro bono matters.” Another insider added, “It’s completely normal for the majority of my day to be devoted to a pro bono matter. You don’t need to prioritize other things.” The firm also pushes pro bono as a valuable experience for juniors as “you’re involved in things you ordinarily wouldn’t be unless you’re a partner, like sitting in on board meetings.” Juniors get the chance to lead pro bono matters with partner supervision: “I do 95% of communication with the client. I make the moves then let the partner know.”

“If you want to do a certain type of matter, they’ll have it available or will be able to line something up.”

Others highlighted the human aspect of the matters, as many associates work with “clients who are doing good out there.” Covington has longstanding connections with multiple organizations, and juniors reported having worked for nonprofits, veterans, inmates, trans individuals, asylum-seekers and women’s organizations, among others. Thanks to these connections, there are opportunities to get involved in some specialized work. Though not specific to Covington, it’s worth noting that “pro bono on the corporate side tends to be lighter and shorter.” However, another transactional associate mentioned that “a lot of corporate attorneys do litigation pro bono to flex different muscles, but you have the freedom to do whatever you want. If you want to do a certain type of matter, they’ll have it available or will be able to line something up.”

Covington & Burling is a Top 10 firm for pro bono in our 2023 survey.

Pro bono hours

  • For all (US) attorneys: 202,473
  • Average per (US) attorney: 202

Hours & Compensation

Billable target: 1,950 (no target in New York)

There’s no bill, bill, bill mentality,” one source explained, “You do have to focus on hitting hours but it’s not like you always have to go crazy.” Over in New York, where there’s no target, “there’s never been an issue with people not billing enough, so I’m looking at my hours but not obsessing over them.” The 1,950-hour target was described as generally achievable, especially considering all pro bono and 50 DEI hours count toward the target. Outside of New York, reaching the 1,950 threshold unlocks the bonus. It was agreed that the set-up is clear, and that compensation meets market-rate. Unfortunately, corporate associates felt the impact of the market-wide downturn in transactional work, as workstreams “ebb and flow quite aggressively. I’ll probably struggle to work enough, especially considering transactional pro bono is lighter.” However, it was mentioned that central management of workflow reports helped ease difficulties with time management.

“... the response is usually ‘What do you need? How can we make this happen?’ Not ‘you need to make this work.’”

Interviewees told us that a typical day is around eight to ten hours long, but “as long as you get work done, they’re flexible with when you work.” When things get more intense, “the response is usually, ‘What do you need? How can we make this happen?’ Not ‘you need to make this work.’” Juniors typically felt that, although wellbeing initiatives were more difficult to slot into a busy schedule, communicating with senior attorneys on your team when you’re struggling is key. “I just recently emailed a senior associate to ask for a more flexible deadline. They set aside time to help me reorganize my schedule and even reassigned one of my matters!”


Covington’s culture is more on the nerdy, brainy side,” a source commented, “It’s a little less extraverted, but kind and intellectual.” Many enjoyed the quieter life: Covington isn’t a work-hard, play-hard kind of firm, but we heard that people are polite and incredibly welcoming. “When I joined, others invited me to lunch or coffee so I could ask them questions,” an associate recalled. Another added, “You hear horror stories at other firms about screaming partners, but that would never happen at Covington.” Generally, insiders felt little hierarchy within the firm and explained how “we obviously treat the partners with respect, but there’s a level of comfort.” We were also told that partners introduce juniors to clients by their name, not class year. An interviewee interestingly measured the formality of communication through the lack of “‘Sent from my iPhone’ or full lower case in emails.” Some felt regional cultural differences in line with what you’d expect on the East and West Coasts: “The New York office is a little bit more workaholic and outgoing, while San Francisco is a bit more work/life balance-oriented.”

Career Development

When I first started, I had so many mentors that it was almost comical!” joked one junior. Incoming first-years are assigned a senior lawyer mentor, alongside additional affinity group-specific mentors. Those in DC specifically get both an associate and partner mentor. However, it was acknowledged that relationships with assigned mentors can feel somewhat forced, so “people tend to find senior lawyers and mentors they naturally mesh with instead.” Sources were impressed with the training for juniors: “I’ve had classes on communication etiquette, regular lessons with the library for research tips, as well as sessions on time management and how to bill your time.”

“We have a good number of home-grown partners. It’s inspiring to see that Covington builds people from the ground up.”

Interviewees agreed that it was too early to start thinking about partnership as a junior, but “even though they don’t sit you down to talk about it yet, it doesn’t feel unattainable.” Some had noticed that after an exceptionally busy 2021, burnout had hit the firm and left a gap in the middle ranks, although this is not unique to Covington. With such strong government connections, many who leave Covington transfer to government roles, while others go in-house or to other firms. However, others noted, “We have a good number of home-grown partners. It’s inspiring to see that Covington builds people from the ground up.”

Diversity, Equity & Inclusion

Covington’s junior and summer associates were described as the most diverse by associates. “A quarter of my summer class was black, which was significant to me. That’s not always reflected in other classes,” one source explained. Interviewees noticed that the gap in mid-levels has affected diversity in the middle – “sometimes I think I’m the only non-white, non-straight person on projects” – butthere are “a number of very successful, senior black and/or female partners.” Some practice groups seemed to have better representation than others as, according to a CFIUS associate, “our group is conscious of including diverse and female voices and faces in our senior leadership.” The firm’s initiatives seem to be well communicated to associates, with regular events hosted by its “very active affinity groups.” An interviewee was keen to highlight how “this past year they started Project Connect, a mental health and wellness initiative. Those who signed up enjoyed it!” Associates can even count up to 50 hours spent on DEI to the billing target.

Strategy & Future

Covington holds quarterly townhall meetings for associates on short- and long-term strategy. The main goal seems to be expanding the corporate practice: "We want to bring that up to speed in terms of its size and punching power.” We also heard that the litigation department is continuing to expanding into the “relatively new focus of culture reviews and racial equity audits for businesses.” There currently seem to be no concrete plans for global expansion, but associates hinted at a potential Boston office, thanks to Covington’s robust life sciences practice.

Get Hired

The first stage: recruitment on and off campus 

OCI applicants interviewed:  1715 

Covington participates in just over 30 OCI programs and job fairs/consortiums. Come spring, prospective candidates can submit a resume, law school transcript, writing sample, and a list of two to three professional references, including a 1L summer employer reference, in addition to the firm’s OCI process. 

Students will meet with a range of attorneys, both partners and associates, from the offices in which they are applying. For those the firm interview outside of the OCI process, there will also be a meeting with one of the firm’s attorneys as a part of an initial screening interview. At this stage, the folks at Covington are looking at candidates’ background and strengths to assess their suitability for summer associate positions. According to Karema Page, Director of Legal Recruiting, this includes (but isn’t limited to) academic distinction in law school and undergraduate education: “We also look for students with strong motivation and initiative, the ability to take on responsibility, and enthusiasm for private law practice. The firm has long been committed to the highest standards of the profession and public service, and we look actively for new lawyers to continue in that tradition.” As a general rule, Covington will inform candidates of their decision within 48 hours of the initial interview. 


Applicants invited to second-stage interviews: 617 

Students submit an online questionnaire indicating their practice areas and affinity group interests when scheduling a callback interview. Candidates then meet with 4-5 attorneys, including a mix of partners, counsel, and associates, during one-to-one interviews that last around 30 minutes each. When possible, students also get to know a junior associate on a more informal basis over lunch or a coffee. 

Summer program 

Offers:  335 

Acceptances: 148 (136 students in the program) 

“Our interactive and individualized assignment system is the foundation of our program,” Page adds, “We actively solicit input from summer associates on desired assignments and encourage them to try projects in multiple practice areas.” Covington’s summer training programs include depositions, advocacy writing, communication skills, and transaction and settlement negotiations. Summer associates are also invited to participate in client and internal strategy meetings and court hearings. The firm also looks for any opportunity to ensure that summer associates get to know Covington’s lawyers, which includes activities ranging from sporting events, concerts, wine tastings, and hiking. All summer associates are assigned both a senior and a junior mentor who facilitate their introduction to the firm, advise on work assignments, and provide insight into life at Covington. “We pride ourselves on providing summer associates with constructive feedback on their work throughout the summer. We also help summer associates develop their writing, research, and advocacy skills as the summer progresses.” 


Covington & Burling LLP

One CityCenter, 850 Tenth Street,
Washington, DC,

Main areas of work
Mergers and acquisitions; private equity; capital markets; life sciences; financial services; technology and outsourcing transactions; international energy sector
Litigation & Investigations: White collar defense and investigations and cultural reviews; international arbitration; product liability; appellate
Regulatory & Public Policy: International trade; life sciences; data privacy and cybersecurity; CFIUS; government contracts

Firm profile
In an increasingly regulated world, the attorneys of Covington & Burling LLP have an exceptional ability to navigate clients through their most complex business problems, deals and disputes. Our distinctively collaborative culture allows us to be truly one team globally, drawing on the diverse experience of lawyers and advisors across the firm by seamlessly sharing insight and expertise. What sets us apart is our ability to combine the tremendous strength in our litigation, investigations, and corporate practices with deep knowledge of policy and policymakers, and one of the world’s leading regulatory practices. This enables us to create novel solutions to our clients’ toughest problems, successfully try their toughest cases and deliver commercially practical advice of the highest quality.

Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2023:

American University Washington College of Law; Berkeley Law; Columbia Law School; Cornell Law School; Duke University School of Law; Fordham University School of Law; George Washington University Law School; Georgetown University Law Center; Harvard Law School; Howard University School of Law; Northwestern Law; NYU Law; Stanford Law School; UC Davis School of Law; UCLA School of Law; University of Chicago Law School; University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law; University of Michigan Law School; University of Pennsylvania Law School; University of Virginia School of Law; USC Gould School of Law; Vanderbilt Law School; Washington University School of Law; Washington and Lee University School of Law; William & Mary Law School; Yale Law School; Bay Area Diversity Career Fair; Lavender Law; Loyola IP Job Fair; National Law School Consortium; The Law Consortium; The Midwest-California-Georgia Consortium 

Recruitment outside OCIs:
We seek outstanding candidates from a wide variety of law schools throughout the country as summer associates. In addition to interviewing students at many law schools and job fairs, the firm also considers write in applications.

Summer associate profile:
We seek talented and motivated individuals who share our well-known commitment to excellence. We assess candidates for summer associate positions based on an overall evaluation of their background and strengths. We look for students with strong motivation and initiative, the ability to take on responsibility, and enthusiasm for private law practice. The firm has long been committed to the highest standards of the profession and public service, and we look actively for new lawyers to continue in that tradition.

Summer program components:
Our interactive and individualized assignment system is the foundation of our program. We actively solicit input from summer associates on desired assignments and encourage them to try projects in multiple practice areas. Our substantive summer training programs include depositions, advocacy writing, communication skills, and transaction and settlement negotiations. Summer associates are also invited to participate in client and internal strategy meetings and court hearings. Finally, we ensure that our summer associates get to know our lawyers outside of the office through a variety of social events. We provide the opportunity for summer associates to take advantage of many of the cultural activities that our cities have to offer. Events include sporting events, concerts, cooking classes, escape rooms, and theatre nights.

Social Media
Twitter: @covingtonllp
Facebook: Covington-Burling-LLP

This Firm's Rankings in
USA Guide, 2023

Ranked Departments

    • Antitrust (Band 3)
    • Corporate/M&A: Deals in Asia (Band 1)
    • Insurance: Policyholder (Band 1)
    • Intellectual Property: Patent Litigation (Band 4)
    • Life Sciences (Band 2)
    • Litigation: General Commercial: The Elite (Band 4)
    • Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations (Band 2)
    • Technology: Transactions (Band 3)
    • Corporate/M&A: Highly Regarded (Band 1)
    • Antitrust (Band 2)
    • Bankruptcy/Restructuring (Band 4)
    • Corporate/M&A & Private Equity (Band 2)
    • Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation (Band 2)
    • Healthcare: Pharmaceutical/Medical Products Regulatory (Band 1)
    • Insurance: Policyholder (Band 1)
    • Intellectual Property: Litigation (Band 1)
    • Litigation: General Commercial: The Elite (Band 2)
    • Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations (Band 1)
    • Media & Entertainment: Regulatory (Band 2)
    • Tax (Band 2)
    • Telecom, Broadcast & Satellite (Band 1)
    • Corporate/M&A: Highly Regarded (Band 2)
    • Insurance: Dispute Resolution: Policyholder (Band 2)
    • Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations: The Elite (Band 2)
    • Outsourcing (Band 3)
    • Technology (Band 3)
    • Antitrust (Band 3)
    • Climate Change (Band 3)
    • Corporate Crime & Investigations: The Elite (Band 1)
    • Corporate/M&A: Highly Regarded (Band 2)
    • E-Discovery & Information Governance (Band 4)
    • Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation (Band 3)
    • Energy: Electricity (Regulatory & Litigation) (Band 5)
    • False Claims Act (Band 1)
    • FCPA (Band 3)
    • Financial Services Regulation: Banking (Compliance) (Band 3)
    • Financial Services Regulation: Banking (Enforcement & Investigations) (Band 3)
    • Financial Services Regulation: Consumer Finance (Enforcement & Investigations) (Band 1)
    • Financial Services Regulation: Financial Institutions M&A (Band 4)
    • Food & Beverages: Regulatory & Litigation (Band 1)
    • Government Contracts: The Elite (Band 1)
    • Government Relations: Congressional Investigations (Band 1)
    • Government Relations: Federal (Band 2)
    • Insurance: Dispute Resolution: Policyholder (Band 1)
    • Intellectual Property (Band 3)
    • International Arbitration: The Elite (Band 3)
    • International Trade: CFIUS Experts (Band 1)
    • International Trade: Export Controls & Economic Sanctions: The Elite (Band 1)
    • International Trade: Intellectual Property (Section 337) (Band 1)
    • International Trade: Trade Remedies & Trade Policy (Band 3)
    • Life Sciences (Band 1)
    • Life Sciences: Regulatory/Compliance (Band 1)
    • Outsourcing (Band 4)
    • Political Law (Band 2)
    • Privacy & Data Security: Healthcare (Band 1)
    • Privacy & Data Security: The Elite (Band 1)
    • Product Liability & Mass Torts: The Elite (Band 1)
    • Securities: Regulation: Enforcement (Band 4)
    • Sports Law (Band 1)
    • Tax: Controversy (Band 5)
    • Tax: Corporate & Finance (Band 4)
    • Technology (Band 4)
    • Transportation: Rail (for Railroads) (Band 2)