Covington & Burling LLP - The Inside View

The smart money’s on Covington: a magnet for the best and brightest legal minds in DC, nationally and around the world.

RECENTLY celebrating its 100th birthday, Covington & Burling has been a fixture in the DC legal scene for longer than women have held the constitutional right to vote. With experience comes expertise: our friends at Chambers USA rank the firm top nationally for life sciences, sports law, food and beverage litigation, and corporate crime and investigations. Associates stressed that Covington has kept its practice fresh: “We’re at the cutting edge of areas like gambling law, risk management and AI interaction with the sports industry.” It’s worth noting that Covington’s international footprint is smaller than that of many comparable firms. With just eight non-US offices, Covington earns a Chambers Global worldwide top life sciences ranking – which partly explains the firm’s notorious appeal to associates with technical backgrounds.

“You can’t walk down a block without seeing a prestigious firm, and we’re among the best regarded in the city.”

At the time of our research, over half the firm’s juniors were in its DC HQ, which earns its own Chambers USA accolades for healthcare, IP, insurance, white-collar, media & entertainment, telecoms and more. “You can’t walk down a block in DC without seeing a prestigious firm, and we’re among the best regarded in the city,” insiders proudly declared. New York also houses a sizable cohort of Covingtonians; the firm’s Cali offices in San Francisco, Palo Alto and Los Angeles take a handful of newbies a year. “There’s a lot of cross-office staffing on the West Coast,” we heard.

The Work

Before joining the firm, prospective associates all get “a survey requiring you to list what practices you’re interested in. From that, the firm decides the first couple of projects to staff you on when you arrive.” Many of our interviewees in DC soon found themselves working exclusively within a practice group, though they pointed out that “many associates opt to split their time between two groups like corporate and tax, or litigation and white-collar.” They went on: “It’s not unusual for people to keep splitting their time for up to four years before deciding where to specialize.” California and New York sources reported a relaxed approach of “matching assignments based on associates’ preferences rather than them being placed within a particular group.” They pick between litigation or corporate, and then can sample a wide range of areas within those broader departments.

Interviewees who’d thrown themselves into litigation took full advantage of Covington’s varied practice. This ranged from white-collar cases where juniors were “coordinating document production with in-house counsel and responding to government requests for information,” to employment arbitration disputes on which they could “strategize with partners about what counterclaims to make, and attend depositions.” The commercial litigation team counts some of the giants of the financial and corporate world among its clients; football fans would perhaps be more interested in the 31 NFL clubs and 55 club owners on the books, part of a match-fit sports law practice. “I’ve done a lot on the policyholder insurance side of the litigation work,”a San Francisco source said. “One huge case involved hundreds and thousands of documents, I was doing targeted review.” Another in DC did “mostly mass torts. I’m not spending lots of my time reviewing documents; there’s a lot more strategic thinking, especially on products cases.”

Litigation clients: Amazon, JPMorgan Chase, Capital One. Acted for pharma giant Eli Lilly in a $1.8 billion arbitration brought by biotech company Adocia, alleging trade secrets misappropriation.

Alongside commercial disputes, sources highlighted IP litigation as one of the most popular contentious teams; it’s also one of the largest and is “more siloed” than others. “Most of the people there have technical backgrounds so it has a bit of a different cultural feel too.” Covington’s IP practice encompasses life sciences, pharmaceuticals and technology, including ITC Section 337 investigations and Hatch-Waxman litigation. Juniors enjoyed the “exciting investigative element to cases,” getting to draft expert reports with leading industry figures as well as compiling documents for discovery to help build the case. “Trade secrets cases are especially interesting,” according to a DC interviewee. “The formula, machine or product in question is valuable and you need to discover if the other side stole it. It’s a little more exciting than other types of case.” On the West Coast, juniors could encounter both hard and soft IP work, though the latter accounts for a smaller share of the firm's IP matters.

“Most of the people have technical backgrounds so it has a bit of a different cultural feel.”

IP clients: AstraZeneca, Dropbox, Samsung. Defended Huawei in a suit alleging its cell phones had infringed eight technology patents covering wireless communication, power saving and image processing tech.

Covington’s corporate cohort drinks from three streams. Sources estimated that the majority of their work was formed of "general corporate matters including M&A, capital markets, securities and corporate governance work.” However,  there was scope to take on some of the department's more specialized life sciences and technology transactions work. They added that “your weeks can be very varied when you’re working on deals from several of those subsets.” Juniors can often be found drafting ancillary documents, preparing disclosure schedules and conducting research tasks. We even heard reports of one sports superfan working “on the review of a stadium lease: looking over real estate, media rights and player contracts.” Go team!

Corporate clients: Bayer AG, GlaxoSmithKline, Johnson & Johnson. Advised pharma multinational Merck on its $1.05 billion acquisition of cancer drug developer Peloton Therapeutics.

Culture, Strategy & Future

‘Conservative’ was the word most frequently mentioned by interviewees – “but not in the political sense!” First and foremost, sources observed the vibe at Covington to be “very professional. Everyone is thoughtful and conscientious of each other, which makes for a quieter working environment than the inverse.” Taking an ax to the ‘open door policy’ cliché, interviewees instead noted that “there are a lot of closed doors – not because people are unfriendly, but because everyone has their noses to the grindstone.” That’s not to say attorneys hide away from each other; on the contrary, juniors emphasized a “collaborative culture which is set in motion by our partnership structure: there is no origination credit at Covington. Partners are also generally very involved in mentoring, training and the summer program, and that attitude really does trickle down to the rest of the firm.”

“Everyone is thoughtful and conscientious of each other, which makes for a quieter working environment.”

Sources suggested things were a little more relaxed in San Francisco, but eventhey conceded it was far removed from the “informal, T-shirt and hoody startup vibe Cali’s known for.” Ultimately, Covington’s juniors were content with their choice of a firm “where you’re not expected to hang out with your colleagues 24/7” and where “people tend to separate their work life from their personal one.” As for those who are partial to some mild workplace social revelry, “every office has a social committee that will throw the occasional happy hour.”

Cautious Covington also takes a careful approach to doing business: “Our outreach is deliberate, especially when looking to open new offices; we always favor sustainable growth over short-term opportunism.” #TeamTortoise. We heard that the firm has no plans to merge or expand geographically, though it will keep an eye on opportunities as they arise.

Diversity & Inclusion

The firm may be conservative in many respects, “but not in its approach to diversity,” according to our interviewees. They felt the firm was cognizant of the fact that “clients are increasingly demanding we put together diverse teams. As a result, our most recent partner class was among the most diverse in our history.” One female interviewee was impressed: “For my first two years, every case I worked on was led by a female attorney.” That doesn’t mean juniors were blind to the continued challenges Covington faces. One in DC said: “Although I would give them credit for their efforts, looking around it does still look quite homogeneous.” The firm told us that it has geographic diversity leads in each office, though some sources in New York and San Francisco still felt that more "drive from the top” was needed.

Hours & Compensation

Billable hours: 1,950 target

“Hit that and you will receive full bonus,” sources confirmed. The firm follows the market closely, a surefire way of guaranteeing no grumbles over salaries or bonuses. “They tried to deviate one year and there was a huge uproar,” a junior reminisced. Lesson learned. There's no cap on the number of pro bono hours that can count toward the target, but professional development activities do not qualify. So if you’re aiming for the 1,950, how does it break down day to day? “I would say that on average, without some impending deadline looming over me, I get in for 8:30am and leave around 7pm before hopping back online for another hour later,” one litigator in DC estimated. Providing a novel alternative summary, another associate in New York estimated they “dedicate 85% of life to working and being at firm –not including sleep of course!” That would be taking ‘living to work’ to a frightening extreme.

“...pleasantly surprised at how few emails you receive during your time off."

Weekend work was a reality for all, but the intensity varied. One junior mentioned that “for the first six months,” they “didn’t have to do any work on 80% of weekends,” compared to another who found themselves “working frequently enough to probably equate to a six-day week total.” The situation was again a little more relaxed for those on the West Coast, especially when it came to face-time requirements. As one interviewee in San Francisco told us: “The office pretty much clears out around 6pm.” While the firm highlighted that it has been in the process of implementing wellness training, sources still felt that “we don’t have many wellness initiatives in place that you see at other firms.”Juniors were at least pleased that their vacations were, in most cases, actually vacations. “I took two weeks off and didn’t do any substantial work,” one said; another of our interviewees was “pleasantly surprised at how few emails you receive during your time off.”

Pro Bono

The centerpiece of Covington’s pro bono program is a rotation system allowing junior associates to spend six months at one of three public interest groups (including the Neighborhood Legal Services Program) at full pay. Note that, at the time of writing, the program was only available for associates in DC. Interviewees in other offices also found ample and substantial opportunities to engage with pro bono outside the program: a junior in New York was keen to tell us about “getting to argue on a Ninth Circuit immigration appeal case. I’ve been the primary attorney responsible for it, and the partners have been very supportive of me working on these types of matters.”

Another chimed in: “Even within the corporate group there’s a robust approach to helping nonprofits, including aiding organizations with getting tax-exempt status. During our last associate-wide firm meeting, the average number of pro bono hours devoted by first years was between 200 and 300.” Getting to count so many hours toward billables was a big relief for many.

Pro bono hours

  • For all (US) attorneys: 198,924
  • Average per (US) attorney: 172

Career Development

Given Covington’s expertise in government-facing work, we weren’t surprised to hear that some “associates leave to work for the government around their fifth year. We’ve recently had people head out to clerk, work in the Department of Justice and even the Office of the Attorney General.” That doesn’t mean Covington’s numbers are dropping: the legal revolving door means that “although people leave, around 50% end up coming back to Covington, bringing valuable experience with them.” None of our junior interviewees had put too much thought into the path to partnership, though a source in San Francisco suggested that “the general sense is there are definitely opportunities to move up the ranks here.” The firm helps associates get there by assigning mentors for their first three years, and running training and seminars for legal and soft skills.

“Around 50% end up coming back to the firm, bringing valuable experience with them.”

Get Hired

Coming soon.

Covington & Burling LLP

  • Head Office: Washington, DC
  • Number of domestic offices: 5
  • Number of international offices: 8
  • Worldwide revenue: $1,187,388,000
  • Partners (US): 273
  • Associates (US): 621
  • Contacts  
  • Main recruitment contact: Karema Page, Director of Legal Recruiting,
  • 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, Don Brown, Doug Sprague, Cort Lannin
  • Recruitment website:
  • Diversity officer: Floyd Mills, Director of Diversity and Inclusion
  • Recruitment details 
  • Entry-level associates starting in 2020: 137
  • Clerking policy: Yes
  • Summers joining/anticipated 2020: 1Ls: 12, 2Ls: 149 (SEO Interns: 4)
  • Summers joining/anticipated 2020 split by office: California: 25; New York: 44; Washington, DC: 94 (Numbers here do not include SEO interns)
  • Summer salary 2020: 1Ls: $3,654 2Ls: $3,654
  • Split summers offered? Yes
  • Can summers spend time in an overseas office? No

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 2020:
American University Washington College of Law; Berkeley Law; Brooklyn Law School; 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; Northwestern Law; NYU Law; Stanford 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; USC Gould School of Law; Vanderbilt Law School; 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; Tulane University/ Washington University Job Fair

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
Facebook: Covington-Burling-LLP

This Firm's Rankings in
USA Guide, 2020

Ranked Departments

    • Antitrust (Band 3)
    • Insurance: Policyholder (Band 1)
    • Intellectual Property (Band 4)
    • Life Sciences (Band 2)
    • Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations (Band 3)
    • 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 (Band 3)
    • Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations (Band 1)
    • Media & Entertainment (Band 3)
    • Media & Entertainment: Regulatory (Band 2)
    • Tax (Band 2)
    • Telecom, Broadcast & Satellite (Band 1)
    • Corporate/M&A: Highly Regarded (Band 3)
    • Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations (Band 3)
    • Antitrust (Band 3)
    • Climate Change (Band 3)
    • Corporate Crime & Investigations (Band 1)
    • Corporate/M&A: Highly Regarded (Band 3)
    • Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation (Band 2)
    • Energy: Electricity (Regulatory & Litigation) (Band 4)
    • FCPA (Band 3)
    • Financial Services Regulation: Banking (Compliance) (Band 3)
    • Financial Services Regulation: Banking (Enforcement & Investigations) (Band 2)
    • Financial Services Regulation: Financial Institutions M&A (Band 4)
    • Food & Beverages: Regulatory & Litigation (Band 1)
    • Government Contracts (Band 1)
    • Government Relations (Band 1)
    • Insurance: Dispute Resolution: Policyholder (Band 1)
    • Intellectual Property (Band 2)
    • International Arbitration (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 4)
    • Life Sciences (Band 1)
    • Political Law (Band 2)
    • Privacy & Data Security (Band 2)
    • Product Liability & Mass Torts (Band 1)
    • Securities: Regulation (Band 4)
    • Sports Law (Band 1)
    • Tax: Corporate & Finance (Band 4)
    • Transportation: Rail (for Railroads) (Band 2)