Covington & Burling LLP - The Inside View

Associates get huge clients and (Coving)tonsof responsibility at this DC institution, where “mentorship and pro bono is in our DNA.”

Call us old-fashioned (or British) but we at Chambers Associate are stage-by-stage, little-by-little type folk. But one particular associate wasn’t quite on our wavelength: “A big reason I joined this firm was because of the meaningful exit options. People here leave for really interesting places like Amazon and Apple.” There's an increasing honesty across elite law these days about career paths: not everyone can make it to partner, but while you figure that out, you should aim for some resume gold – and at Covington you get just that. In fact, a fair few Covington attorneys recently left to join the Biden administration. It’s handy, then, that the firm “has deep ties with DC and lots of connections with people who’ve served in Government.” It’s something our buddies over at Chambers USA noticed, too: the firm’s recognized as cream of the crop for its government contracts and relations work.

This isn’t a one-trick pony, however: the firm gets no fewer than 17 top-tier rankings across California, DC, New York and in the nationwide category for practices like healthcare, insurance and all sorts of litigious practices (our word limit isn’t high enough to list them all). Its strengths in privacy, cybersecurity, tech and patent litigation were cited as reasons for joining the firm, alongside its culture: “Partners’ compensation isn’t based on origination credit so they all play nice together, which trickles down to associates.” These structures matter when you consider the impact on firm culture. It’s also “the only firm I interviewed with where I was introduced to a non-lawyer, which struck me.”

The DC HQ was by far the most popular destination for the associates on our list. New York came in at second place, while the three Cali offices were home to handful of rookies each.

The Work



"I’ve been on the phone to GCs without a partner there.”

Covington is very accommodating of newbies’ practice group preferences: “In corporate, you’re slotted in as a generalist but I told them I wanted more niche work, which they’ve let me focus on.” It’s worth noting that several juniors work across practice areas before declaring a specialism, “so you can choose your own adventure.” Assignments are either handed to associates or come about organically, but each rookie is assigned a vice chair in their practice area to help rookies build up their workload: “They can also help you take your practice in a different direction, if that’s what you want.” 

Corporate newbies can opt to join subgroups, like securities and capital markets or technology transactions: “About two thirds of my practice runs the gamut of capital markets transactions, like IPOs and private placements. The rest is securities advisory work, so I advise public companies on compliance with stock exchange requirements.” Technology transactions folks explained “we don’t just do deal support, we have our own deals, which helps companies get their business done.” Juniors typically take the first cut at agreements: TV rights and software licensing were common industries for our interviewees.

This group is known for high levels of client contact. “It’s kinda scary how much we get. I’ve been on the phone to GCs without a partner there.” The best part of the practice “is getting to know a company very well. In other groups you only learn about one part of company’s business but in this group you can work with companies for their entire life-span so you get really involved with the business, which is rewarding.”

"We approach the work with a global lens.”

Corporate clients: General Electric, Hewlett-Packard, Bayer AG. Represented Merck – the company helping Johnson & Johnson develop a COVID-19 vaccine – in its acquisition of vaccine and immune-modulation therapy company Themis.

Both advisory and litigious matters are on the table for folks in the privacy group, with litigation often stemming from the advisory portion of the practice. Associates usually take charge of advisory work: “Let’s say I’m writing a memo analyzing the applicability of ‘X’ law to the client’s product; I’ll do all the research, attend the client meetings, make sure all questions are answered and write the memo, which the partner looks over before it goes to the client.” It sounds daunting, but “I’ll bounce ideas off other associates during the process to back-channel support.”

Juniors’ responsibilities on litigious matters depends on the size of the matter: “On some cases I’ll take the first stab at the entire brief, but on others I’ll just draft one portion, or I’ll be staffed on the case for research support.” Associates “chose this group for the broad cross-section of clients in multiple industries: the firm likes to rotate us through different clients so we’re not stuck on one account. Everyone collects data these days so I like the intellectual challenge of looking at things from a different perspective, which helps us become better attorneys.” This group gets to work closely with colleagues in Europe, Asia and the Middle East, “which was a delightful surprise for me. We often get global questions, like GDPR requirements in Europe, so we approach the work with a global lens.”

"The firm likes to rotate us through different clients so we’re not stuck on one account."

Privacy clients: Facebook, Microsoft, American Express. Represented the Entertainment Software Association – the primary trade association for the video game industry – on a number of privacy and cybersecurity issues including its engagement with reviews of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act.

Oddly enough, juniors in the litigation and investigations group get involved with – you guessed it – litigation and investigations. Trade secrets, consumer protection and commercial disputes all crop up, alongside white-collar and appellate matters: “We have a very large policy-holder side insurance practice so I do some of that, too.” Juniors' tasks vary depending on the size of the case (rather than substance): “At any firm, it’s an inescapable fundamental that what makes senior attorneys valuable is the people beneath them, so I did a lot of discovery in my first couple of years, but I also got to take depositions – they let you get those key experiences.” Juniors had done a bit of doc review on smaller cases, "but on bigger cases I do quality control of the contract attorneys who do the doc review.” Drafting motions, briefs and interrogatory responses are all common tasks for litigators.

There’s also a patent litigation subgroup: litigation before the International Trade Commission keeps these attorneys busy: “There are daily depositions for weeks, and the cases don’t wind up for eight months so it takes up your life. It’s nothing to do with the firm; judges just expect lawyers to respond immediately and if you don’t respond within a week they consider the issue waived.”  The good news is “you can hit your annual hours goal within eight months, then just triage your smaller matters for the rest of the year.”

Litigation clients: Amazon.com, J.P. Morgan, Unilever. Represented major Korean energy refining company SK Innovation in a high-profile trade secrets and patent infringement dispute – which has reached the White House – with LG Chem, concerning the companies’ manufacturing of batteries for electric vehicles and importation to the US.

Hours & Compensation 



Billable hours: 1,950 target

"Covington corrects so many wrongs in this industry. Nobody’s ever put toxic pressure on me."

Market bonuses are dished out once associates hit the 1,950-hour mark, “but if you’ve done really significant nonbillable work and just missed the target you can still get a bonus.” Pro bono hours count one-to-one with billable work and those who take parental leave are still eligible for a pro-rated bonus.

Our interviewees thought 1,950 was definitely achievable, with most putting in nine hours a day. Of course some practices are busier than others: Capital markets can be very unpredictable and fast-paced because it reacts to windows in the market, so you have turn a transaction around in a week, but M&A is more drawn out.” Either way, “Covington corrects so many wrongs in this industry. Nobody’s ever put toxic pressure on me and I feel comfortable turning down work if there’s too much on my plate.”

Sources praised the firm for its “commitment to market-rate salary” and for handing out an additional COVID-19 bonus: “Even in the pandemic they still paid for meals and cars home if you’re working later, which I really appreciate.” To avoid appearing tone-deaf during a worldwide crisis, Covington handed out its summer bonuses after the peak of the pandemic: “The firm is very conscious about the steps it takes.”

Culture



“We have a work-hard culture, but it’s considered unattractive to show it. We’re not whipping out tape measures to see who the bigger person is.” (Mind out of the gutter, please.) Others noted: “The partner I work with gets a little hangry, so he goes home at 7pm then logs back on. I have a wife, a kid and a German shepherd so I’m glad they respect life outside work.”

"Their general attitude was ‘do what you have to do to take care of your family.’"

Before joining the firm, some were worried about “its reputation for being buttoned-up, which really isn’t my vibe, but people aren’t stiff at all." Some juniors did observe that “the firm has some work to do with the internal dynamic between attorneys and non-attorneys, but there’s been an effort to try and improve it.”

Covington handled the impact of COVID-19 really well, according to our sources: “They were very transparent about what they were thinking and their general attitude was ‘do what you have to do to take care of your family.’ We got messages from partnership early on saying they understand these are trying times and that they’re here for us.” Nobody was asked to reduce their hours, either. Virtual escape rooms and mail order ice cream socials helped people to keep connected: “The firm paired me up with a partner I’ve never worked with, just to chit-chat over Zoom every week. I met his kids and dog.” Covington still ran its summer associate program with full pay.

That said, Covington is the sort of place where “people skew more toward the introverted side. Everyone is respectful and nobody has a huge personality. We like to enjoy doing our work.” We heard "the firm is better at not expecting us to be perfect, rather making us better lawyers and not be scared."

Career Development



“Mentorship is in the DNA of this firm. Every single person I’ve interacted with has been happy to cultivate and teach associates, so I feel like I’m definitely invested in personally.” Each new starter is assigned an associate mentor, while third-years get partner or counsel mentors. As we often hear, “informal mentorship is the best kind, like when partners walk you through the changes they’ve made to your work. It’s definitely nerve-wracking to sit with a partner while they explain why what you did wasn’t what they wanted, but we’re never berated and it’s a really good learning experience.”

Managing Partners for Legal Personnelare on hand to do evaluations and generally check associates’ wheels are running smoothly. Each new joiner attends a seminar at the DC HQ to meet their fellow first-years, do training and – most importantly – go bowling: There’s also “heavy programming about the value and importance of diversity and understanding implicit bias.”

"Every single person I’ve interacted with has been happy to cultivate and teach associates, so I feel like I’m definitely invested in personally.”

Diversity & Inclusion



Associates noticed an increased focus on D&I since they joined the firm: “There wasn’t a culture of using pronouns in email signatures when I got here, but now it’s standard practice.” Mental health has been given more attention “especially since the pandemic. We’ve now got a dedicated group of partners on the mental health committee; they’ve given us access to the Unmind app and we’ve had seminars to address mental health concerns that come with both our professional and personal lives." Californians praised their workload manager for being “a huge proponent of taking vacations.” 

As is a familiar story in BigLaw, a lack of diversity in the partnership ranks disappointed some of our interviewees, although the firm recently elected two women of color to its eight-member management committee. “I do believe the firm’s desire to address D&I is legitimate. Now that I’m involved in hiring, I’ve seen the firm make efforts to ensure we have diverse candidates and hires.”

Covington isn’t just focusing on its next generation of attorneys, though: during the summer of racial injustice in the US, the firm set up town halls “so that partners could talk about it,” and gave everyone Juneteenth off: “Across the board, attorneys really take up the mantle to promote D&I culture. We have lots of affinity groups that host social events and discussion groups.” For example, the African-American affinity group hosted a talk with former NFL player Emmanuel Acho. Politicians regularly appear, given the firm’s deep ties with DC.

“Across the board, attorneys really take up the mantel to promote D&I culture."

Pro Bono



Pro bono hours

  • For all (US) attorneys: 188,629
  • Average per (US) attorney: 181

Associates rated Covington's pro bono efforts among the US top ten, and the firm billed more pro bono hours in 2020 than any other US law firm>

Politics also crops up in the firm’s pro bono practice: Covington worked with an election protection hotline, "so we help people with voters’ rights issues and sometimes litigation," one junior told us. “Deadlines for pro bono cases are considered as important as billable deadlines. Someone devoted 75% of their time to a Supreme Court case and the firm was really proud of her.” Others had worked on lawsuits against sheriffs for racial profiling and represented immigrants facing deportation: “We also work with The Bronx Defenders to help families get their kids back if Child Protective Services have taken them without good reason.”

Associates are asked the type of pro bono they’re interested in when they join the firm and if they want to bring in their own matters “the firm will make sure you can take it on.” Associates praised the firm for giving them loads of responsibility in these cases: “Partners put a lot of trust in us by putting us in front of clients and letting us be the primary point of contact.”

“Deadlines for pro bono cases are considered as important as billable deadlines."

Covington & Burling LLP

  • Head Office: Washington, DC
  • Number of domestic offices: 5
  • Number of international offices: 8
  • Worldwide revenue: $1,321,296,000
  • Partners (US): 276
  • Associates (US): 667
  • Contacts  
  • Main recruitment contact: Karema Page, Director of Legal Recruiting, legal.recruiting@cov.com
  • Hiring partner: DC: Ben Block and Ranga Sudarshan; Los Angeles: Ashley Simonsen and Dan Shallman; NY: Jack Bodner, Arlo Devlin- Brown, Micaela McMurrough, Jenna Wallace, Amy Wollensack, Chris Yeung; Palo Alto: Kurt Calia & Suzanne Bell; San Francisco: Ingrid Rechtin, Denny Kwon, Doug Sprague, Cort Lannin
  • Recruitment website: https://www.cov.com/en/careers/lawyers
  • Diversity officer: Marlene Aquino, Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer
  • Recruitment details 
  • Entry-level associates starting in 2021: 147
  • Clerking policy: Yes
  • Summers joining/anticipated 2021: 1Ls: 11, 2Ls: 131 (SEO Interns: 4)
  • Summers joining/anticipated 2021 split by office: California: 36; New York: 27; Washington, DC: 83 (Numbers here do not include SEO interns)
  • Summer salary 2021: 1Ls: $3,654 2Ls: $3,654
  • Split summers offered? Yes
  • Can summers spend time in an overseas office? No

Main areas of work
Corporate:
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.

Recruitment
Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2021:
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; Tulane Law School; 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; Vanderbilt Law School; Washington and Lee University School of Law; Washington University School of Law; William & Mary Law School; Yale Law School
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 baseball games, concerts, wine tasting, and hiking.

Social Media
Website:
https://www.cov.com/en/careers/lawyers
Twitter: @covingtonllp
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/covington-&-burling
Facebook: Covington-Burling-LLP

This Firm's Rankings in
USA Guide, 2021

Ranked Departments

    • Antitrust (Band 3)
    • Insurance: Policyholder (Band 1)
    • Intellectual Property: Patent Litigation (Band 4)
    • Life Sciences (Band 2)
    • Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations (Band 3)
    • Technology: Transactions (Band 3)
    • Corporate/M&A: Highly Regarded (Band 1)
    • Antitrust (Band 2)
    • Bankruptcy/Restructuring (Band 3)
    • 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 3)
    • 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 3)
    • 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 2)
    • Energy: Electricity (Regulatory & Litigation) (Band 5)
    • 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 (Band 1)
    • 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 (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: The Elite (Band 2)
    • 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)