The Firm. The Myth. The Legend. One of New York’s most famous corporate law firms, Cravath has done things its own way for more than two centuries.
Cravath associates share many qualities: intellectual prowess, sky-high levels of ambition, and a killer work ethic. One interviewee proposed that “the defining Cravath skill set can be summed up as ‘Give me a problem and I will solve it.’” Big words, but their confidence is well placed: the firm has long been synonymous with prestige in the world of BigLaw, and for many years its famous Cravath Scale set the standard rate of compensation and pay in the market. Chambers USA ranks the firm top nationwide for its M&A, tax, capital markets, securities and banking practices; while in New York the firm’s commercial litigation group sits atop the coveted ‘Elite’ category. "If you get an offer to work at Cravath, you take it," a confident junior said.
Unlike many of New York’s leading outfits, Cravath operates out of a single US office, supported by a smaller second base over the pond in London. Interviewees proposed this “enables the firm to be much nimbler and react quickly to events," pointing to the fact that “during the COVID-19 pandemic, when some practice areas became very busy we were able to move people very efficiently in response. That’s really helped the business over the past nine months.”
“If you get an offer to work at Cravath, you take it."
Another Cravath trademark is its unique rotation system, “the big number-one attraction” for some junior associates. “Like many graduates, I wasn’t immediately sure which area of law I wanted to practice, and the rotational system allows you to try before you buy.” In effect, all associates rotate between supervisors or practices every 18 months or so until they reach partnership level. An insider pulled back the curtain on how it works: “Talking to my peers, a majority end up rotating into an area they expected to join and had expressed a preference for. There are cases when associates are simply put into areas with high demand; they are typically given priority to choose in the next round.”
Juniors in corporate “work with partner groups" and move from practice area to practice area, whereas in litigation “you move from partner to partner and remain a generalist throughout," interviewees explained. "The idea is that by consistently rotating, you’re always having to adapt and learn, and your development never stalls.” One litigator observed that “partners take into consideration what’s best for your development when deciding where you will go next. For example, if I had lots of discovery experience but needed to develop my deposition or writing skills, that would be taken into account.” Juniors join one of the firm’s five core practices: corporate, litigation, tax, trusts and estates, or executive compensation and benefits (ECB). At the time of our calls, just a handful of associates were in the last three groups – the vast majority were corporate or litigation juniors. New arrivals typically slot into the practice they’d built the most experience in during the firm’s summer program.
“You are always having to adapt and learn, and your development never stalls.”
In Cravath's legendary corporate arm, associates may rotate through M&A, banking and credit, capital markets, corporate governance and board advisory, intellectual property and financial restructuring and reorganization. There are four dedicated M&A groups – “all do a broad mix of private, public, buyer and seller side work.” We heard from sources in one of the groups that “key clients here include IBM and Johnson & Johnson. The group does a lot of volume work, alongside more significant deals.” While we heard reports of associates taking ownership of more menial tasks like “booking rooms for meetings,” Cravath's lean approach to staffing means juniors won't have to wait long for substantive opportunities. Here’s one with the skinny: “I was often working directly with clients to prepare anything they needed. That included doing troubleshooting and conducting a lot of market and legal research.” We also heard of instances where juniors worked side by side with partners, attempting first stabs at drafting merger agreements and "drilling down into the nitty-gritty of deals." Interviewees also saw the benefits of “being able to be in the room to watch top-level negotiations” – and if we learned one thing from Hamilton, it’s the importance of being in the room where it happens.
Corporate clients: Avon Products, Disney, Peugeot. Represented generic and pharmaceuticals company Mylan in its $50 billion (yes, billion) combination with Pfizer’s off-patent branded and generic medicines business Upjohn to form the new company Viatris.
Under Cravath’s litigation umbrella, associates rotate between “partners who all have a slightly different focus,” sources explained. “Though technically they are all generalists, one partner might handle more white-collar cases, for example, while others might do more IP or securities work.” The word from juniors was that each also has their own distinct style of working: “Some partners are very hands-off and let you have free rein, while others are very involved, constantly on the phone to you talking to you about strategy and reviewing your briefs and memos.” RMBS claims, M&A-related shareholder derivative actions and securities fraud class actions are all Cravath specialisms. “I think some partners are more aggressive in their litigation style, while others are more conciliatory and focused on building credibility in the eyes of a judge,” an insider revealed. “It’s refreshing to see all the different approaches they take.” As in corporate, matters tend to be leanly staffed so juniors can expect to rack up substantive drafting experience early on in the form of motions, pleadings and briefs.
Litigation clients: Boston Red Sox, Goldman Sachs, WarnerMedia. Represented energy giant Pacific Gas & Electric in its litigation response to the 2017 and 2018 wildfires in Northern California, acting in over 145 lawsuits with potential liabilities in excess of $30 billion.
“It's best to mimic what the partner does and adjust to their working style."
Pro Bono, Hours & Compensation
There’s no pro bono target at Cravath, but over the years the firm has had a higher hours average than many. “Partners value pro bono very highly in the litigation groups and push for associates to get involved,” sources explained, adding that “most people aim to do around 50 hours.” They also noted that there’s a reward for anyone who bills over 75 hours and told of juniors who’d billed way in excess of that. Recent pro bono highlights include winning a historic class action settlement to improve sidewalk accessibility for New York City’s disabled community; the firm has also represented eight ‘juvenile lifers’ – sentenced to life in prison after committing homicide offenses as minors – in a suit brought against the Commissioners of the New York Board of Parole. “You could bill 200 hours if you were slow and you wanted to,” one suggested. “However, your capacity is often quite dependent on the partner you’re working with. Some will have you working on business development, rather than pro bono, if they are slow.”
Pro bono hours
- For all (US) attorneys: 37,563
- Average per (US) attorney: 72.5
Likewise when it comes to paid billable hours, work/life balance can be dependent on partners’ working styles. Sources told us “some will work 8am to 5pm in the office, whereas others prefer to work later and will frequently be in past midnight. It's best to mimic what the partner does and adjust to their working style." That may sound daunting to some, but there were few complaints from juniors, who were prepared to make some sacrifices to their social lives as part and parcel of a position at Cravath. There's no formal billing target, but we can safely assume many juniors are billing comfortably in excess of 2,000 hours; evening and weekend work is not off limits.
Billable hours: no requirement
“There’s a history here of focusing on quality of work, so it doesn’t matter if you exceed 2,000 hours,” juniors assured us. As part of the infamous Cravath System, compensation maintains a lockstep that’s emulated by many peer firms. We heard bonuses are “tied to being in good standing," which for many admittedly wasn't "100% clear." Survey respondents made it very clear indeed that they were satisfied with their paychecks…
While conceding that “from an external perspective, Cravath definitely has a conservative image,” juniors emphasized that “internally there’s a casual and collegial environment, particularly among the associates.” We’d argue that those terms are being used in a relative sense, and one admitted that “compared to many firms, Cravath would still be considered conservative, but in the last few years it’s been moving away from that. For example, where once everyone had to wear a full suit, I haven’t worn a tie in years; we also have more social events, and much more partner-associate interaction than previous generations.”
“You get very comfortable admitting that you don’t know what you’re doing!”
Many brought the conversation back to the firm’s rotation system. “It keeps everyone humble,” one declared. “You can be a fifth-year associate joining a new team and have to accept that a third-year will know a lot more about the case, the partner and the clients than you. You get very comfortable admitting that you don’t know what you’re doing!” Sources also acknowledged that the reality of rotating every 18 months means juniors will be confronted with “more than one steep learning curve.” While this may come with some mental health challenges, insiders emphasized that “partners do a good job of helping people avoid getting burnt out. There’s an incentive for them to support you and not let you get overwhelmed because you’re all they’ve got!”
One of the most famous traits of Cravath’s culture is that the firm (almost) never recruits lateral hires. For that reason, a junior concluded that when “weighing up whether to join Cravath or another firm, nobody is going to blame you for choosing Cravath," confident that the name “could provide the best exit options.” We heard that “traditionally people leave around their third or fourth year, but recently there's been a trend of people staying longer due to new efforts the firm has put into retention.”
“Recently there's been of trend of people staying longer.”
All juniors can also make use of personal partner and second-year mentors, assigned upon starting at the firm. There’s two weeks of negotiation training for newcomers; litigators then get a deposition workshop follow-up in their second year. "For litigators, it’s not uncommon to leave early for a clerkship but a good number tend to come back,” insiders revealed. As for the rest of the associate ranks, “some go to other law firms in hope of specializing earlier after doing a few rotations. I think the next most common exit route is in-house roles, followed by a chunk who go to nonlegal positions with banks and private equity funds."
Diversity & Inclusion
“I think the firm has historically been one of the bigger culprits on the subject of poor diversity in the legal industry,” a junior began. They were quick to add that “things have been getting better, particularly in the last couple of years. Every firm says they’re working on the issue, but I think Cravath does a good job of putting its money where its mouth is.” As evidence, they point to the most recent new associate class, arguing it was “the most diverse it’s ever been,” and a big increase in the firm’s budget for affinity groups. Another source reminded us that “Cravath doesn’t hire laterals, so diversity in the partnership class is determined solely by associate diversity. If we can’t rely on bringing in diverse candidates, then it’s all about retention.” About one third of Cravath associates identified as ethnically diverse, so if retention efforts pay off then we should soon see improvement in the partnership ranks.
“Things have been getting better, particularly in the last couple of years.”
Strategy & Future
There’s been no indication that Cravath’s likely to deviate from its famous model any time soon – the last time this firm opened a new office was a Hong Kong base in 1994, and that closed less than a decade later. A few juniors would however appreciate some more insight into top-level thinking: “The firm could work on its transparency,” one said. “COVID-19 presented a perfect example – there was a big delay in comforting worried associates. We’re often left in the dark and could do with broader visibility.” It’s no surprise that associates were most likely to describe Cravath’s outlook as ‘conservative’ and ‘risk-averse’, though we also heard that “everyone at the firm does have a commercial mindset.” Click the Get Hired tab above to read our interview with Karin DeMasi, managing partner of Cravath's litigation department.
The first stage: recruitment on and off campus
OCI applicants interviewed: undisclosed
Interviewees outside OCI: undisclosed
Cravath sees close to 1,000 students at over 20 schools and job fairs for approximately 80-90 summer positions every year, so competition is fierce. But even if Cravath isn’t coming to your campus, don’t disregard it: “We encourage any student with an interest in Cravath to apply,” recruitment sources at the firm tell us, “as we look seriously at every application we receive.” And Cravath also considers candidates “who spent time in other careers or took detours from what might be considered the ‘straight and narrow’ path.”
The OCIs are conducted by partners, which is “consistent with the investment of time made by our partners throughout all phases of the recruiting process.” Questions focus on “the candidate’s experience in an effort to better understand their unique backgrounds and interests — it is very much a two-way, free-flowing conversation.” Recruitment sources add that they’re looking for “a breadth of skills and attributes in candidates at the OCI stage: a strong presence; evidence of good judgment and resilience in the face of challenges, often demonstrated in work experience; interests outside of law school; and a genuine commitment to learning and development.”
Top tips for this stage:
“The number one thing is to be knowledgeable about our rotation system – it’s something the partners are proud of.” – a first-year junior associate
“We want to get to know you, and we want you to get to know us, so we encourage students to share their unique experiences.” – the firm
Applicants invited to second stage interview: undisclosed
Cravath’s OCI process isn’t dissimilar to that of other firms, but the same can’t be said for its “unstructured” callback interviews. “Most of the callbacks I did with other firms were regimented 30-minute interviews and then I was out the door in three or four hours!” Cravath candidates should be prepared to set aside a full day because here, “there are no time limits – you meet with partners and talk for as long as the conversation goes, so you might be in a meeting for 30 minutes or you might be in it for two hours.”
There’s no preset schedule for who conducts the interviews either, “which means that a candidate may meet with different interviewers for different amounts of time — whatever period allows for a full and open discussion,” sources say. The interviews are done on a one-to-one basis, and candidates are likely to meet with at least three partners, associates figured. Associates also told us that “you typically come in at 9am and leave around 3pm.” For those asking the most important question (when will I have time to eat?), a “long lunch” with associates is a staple part of the day.
Our recruitment sources told us that one of the main reasons for having the full day is “to give students an opportunity to get a true sense of who we are as a firm.” It also means the interviewers “really get to know applicants and their unique qualities.” At this point, associates say, “you’ve already gotten past the stage where people are judging you based on merits and grades. You’re now here for us to see if you’d be a good fit for the firm.”
Under the new remote way of working, the firm still organised a full day of interviews for candidates, but made modifications to suit the virtual setting.
Top tips for this stage:
“Don’t be stressed out because everybody that comes through these doors is in the same unstructured interview – go with the flow.” – a first-year junior associate
“Candidates who communicate well and show hunger and intellectual curiosity stand out in an interview, so we encourage law students to use the discussions as a chance to learn about the firm, but also to demonstrate your unique attributes and a commitment to learning and development.” – the firm
Summer associates are given the option of spending the program in one department or splitting it between two. They’re assigned to one partner in each chosen department. One sure thing to expect is that it’ll be challenging: “Partners view their summer associates much like first-year associates in collaborating on and assigning work.” Associates confirmed “you get a serious slice of what it’s like to work at Cravath” as a summer. It might be tough, but “one of the big benefits was that when I came back as a first year I was already very comfortable with the lifestyle working as a junior at a BigLaw firm.”
Most summers are made offers, and when associates start at the firm, they indicate their practice preference between corporate, litigation, tax, executive compensation and benefits, or trusts and estates. They are subsequently assigned a partner or partner group for their first rotation of 15 to 18 months.
Top tips for this stage:
“They need someone who’s going to work just like a first-year associate, because people aren’t going to treat you differently.” – a first-year junior associate
“Summer associates stand out when they show commitment to the work and professional development, but also demonstrate that they genuinely enjoy the practice of law.” – the firm
Interview with Karin DeMasi, managing partner of Cravath's litigation department
Chambers Associate: What do you believe is the key to running a successful law firm in one of the most competitive legal markets in the world?
Karin DeMasi: The key is that we hire people who bring excellence to everything we do. This starts with our hiring process; we bring to Cravath a group of diverse individuals from many backgrounds who share the common traits of collaboration and intellectual curiosity. We then focus on this group intently, developing our associates in all areas of litigation or corporate law so that they are ready to provide the best legal advice in a variety of commercial contexts. As a former Hiring Partner and now as Managing Partner, I can tell you that we think of every associate as our future partners and leaders in their legal community — and we train each lawyer to deliver consistently excellent, sound legal advice to clients of every industry. Cravath’s Rotation System, discussed further below, reflects that dedication. As associates rotate between different groups within our corporate or litigation departments, they work closely with partners on high‐profile matters and receive meaningful mentorship and feedback. Those close working relationships foster extraordinary training and allow each of our associates to grow into exceptional lawyers whom clients can turn to and trust.
CA: What advantages do you believe Cravath has over its competitors?
KD: Cravath’s most distinguishing feature is our Rotation System, in which we train every lawyer through individual relationships with our partners. We pride ourselves on this system of training, which is unique in today’s environment and which prioritizes the quality of the work, rather than the quantity of hours. Our associates at all levels of seniority rotate through different practice areas within their department until they are considered for partnership, building their knowledge base and fostering creativity in problem‐solving. As a result, each of our associates has a macro sense of what is going on in the cases or transactions on which they are working. Virtually all of our partners were trained in the Rotation System and take seriously their obligation to pay that training forward. It’s because of this shared training experience that Cravath lawyers can bring broad perspective to matters and work together seamlessly to provide sound answers and winning strategies to complex legal issues.
CA: Many areas of the law, such as cyber security and data privacy, are increasingly specialized fields. Does this present a challenge for a firm whose associates are trained to be generalists?
KD: We see our training system as a distinct strength. Training our lawyers as generalists teaches them to learn new, complex areas quickly and to master new sets of facts and law. In doing so, our lawyers become specialists in the most complex litigation and corporate deals the profession has to offer. Importantly, being a generalist does not mean only learning things generally — our training is deep and wide. Nor does being a generalist preclude our lawyers from becoming experts in specialty areas of law. Speaking from the litigation side, we have significant depth in areas of antitrust, intellectual property and securities law, for example, and we have also tried cases in even more specialized areas of law such as CERCLA. Importantly, our training system employs a consistent approach to learning how to prepare a case for trial, how to successfully navigate a deal, and how to be creative in the face of challenges while mastering new areas. We also benefit from a tremendous wealth of specialized expertise from our lawyers who have spent time working in government — whether SEC, DOJ, PTO or a number of other agencies — and bring that knowledge to the firm.
CA: How has the firm weathered the pandemic? Has the pandemic affected the firm’s long‐term strategy?
KD: We are proud of how quickly we were able to pivot to remote work, trainings and other programming. That nimbleness is a testament to our robust IT infrastructure and our strong team culture — among our amazing staff and lawyers alike. Over the past year, we have continued to deliver the best in client service that the profession has to offer, and we are grateful for the trust clients place in Cravath for their most critical work. While businesses around the world were faced with unprecedented legal challenges, our lawyers took every call in stride, working through critical questions, often in cases of business survival. We are continuing to find ways to stay connected and to keep our Cravath community strong, even as we look forward to returning to in‐person work in the near future. This culture of teamwork and taking care of community has always driven our ability to deliver value to our clients. As an example, we recently started small‐group breakfast sessions for associates hosted by me and our Corporate Managing Partner, and we have adapted lawyer training sessions to bring social gatherings and wellness resources to everyone in our Cravath community.
CA: Does the firm have any set targets with regards to diversity? If so, what policies are in place/what new policies is the firm implementing to ensure that the firm meets these targets?
One of our core principles is that we are better as a firm with a diverse population of lawyers and staff. We want our workplace to reflect the communities and clients we serve, and one of the ways we work toward that is by recruiting outstanding law students from the widest possible talent pool and across all law schools. Our 2020 summer associate class was 59% women, 40% people of color and 9% LGBTQ+. Once they are inside the building, we make sure all associates receive excellent training and support to become the best lawyers possible while embracing their unique backgrounds and experiences. Our recent partner classes have been roughly half women and have included multiple women of color. We have even had partnership classes that are all women. We are proud of our progress, while recognizing that we must remain diligent in our efforts to ensure our progress continues. We are also grateful for the partnership of many of our clients in ensuring that our teams reflect the diversity that best serves our matters.
CA: How would you define Cravath’s culture? How do you anticipate this will change in the next five years?
KD: Given the experience of the past year, and particularly as we think to the years ahead, we know that Cravath is more than just a shared place of work, and our culture isn’t confined to an office space. At the heart of our culture will always be teamwork and collaboration, an inclusive and collegial community, and a relentless pursuit of excellence in our work. As we continue to work remotely, we are constantly searching for better ways to stay in touch with one another to ensure these tenets of our culture remain strong. Cravath is a place that embraces individuality — while our lawyers are passionate about their work, they also have an incredible array of interests outside the firm. We continue to encourage community and connection through our inclusion efforts, including supporting our Firm Affinity Groups and the programs and events they offer; through our pro bono opportunities, which reflect issues not only important to our associates, but also to the organizations and individuals they assist; and through mentorship and networking opportunities between our associates and partners. We remain deeply committed to fostering an inclusive environment where all our attorneys can thrive and receive the most rewarding professional experience possible.
CA: Are there other developments in the firm’s immediate future you think our readers should be aware about?
KD: We remain focused on building and sustaining a strong platform for Cravath’s future. Our eleven partners elected in 2021 from all departments comprise one of Cravath’s largest classes ever, and speak to the strength of our various practices and departments. In February, we named new heads of our tax and litigation departments, and looking ahead, we will continue to provide our associates with the best training possible. For summer and first‐year associates who join the firm while we are still remote, the onboarding process will look a little different than it would if we were in person. But importantly, the experience, the dedication and the training remain the same. Incoming associates will receive the same level of onboarding support as they would in person, and building on last year’s successful program, our partners will continue to lead summer session seminars during which associates will have an opportunity to connect with their peers. We are excited to keep building these resources even as we plan for a return to the office.
CA: Do you believe the policies and economic agenda of the Biden administration will have a significant impact on the firm/legal market?
KD: New administrations tend to bring with them unique policies and perspectives, and as a firm we do our best to prepare clients for potential changes across key areas. In January, ahead of President Biden’s inauguration, we prepared and sent a memo to clients outlining anticipated developments in areas including the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, Securities and Exchange Commission, antitrust and merger clearance, sanctions, and tax. As the priorities of the Biden administration come into focus, we will continue to monitor new developments and support our clients as the landscape evolves.
Cravath, Swaine & Moore LLP
825 Eighth Avenue,
- Head Office: New York, NY
- Number of domestic offices: 1
- Number of international offices: 1
- Partners (US): 94
- Associates (US): 378
- Main recruitment contact: Lisa A Kalen (email@example.com)
- Hiring partners: Benjamin Gruenstein, Ting S. Chen
- Diversity officer: Kiisha J B Morrow
- Recruitment details
- Entry-level associates starting in 2021: 85
- Clerking policy: Yes
- Summers joining/anticipated 2021: 92 (89 2 Ls, 3 1Ls)
- Summers joining/anticipated 2021 split by office: NY: 92
- Summer salary 2020:
- 1Ls: $3,950/week
- 2Ls: $3,950/week
- Split summers offered? Yes
- Can summers spend time in an overseas office? Yes
Main areas of work
Corporate, litigation, tax, executive compensation and benefits, trusts and estates..
Cravath is known as one of the preeminent law firms in the country. Each of our practice areas is highly regarded and our lawyers are widely recognized for their commitment to the representation of our clients’ interests. We believe the development of our lawyers is our most important long term objective. Our partners come almost exclusively from the ranks of our own associates. We recruit the most talented law students and have our partners directly train the next generation of associates. Through our rotation system — a system in which corporate associates ‘rotate’ from one practice group to another and litigation associates ‘rotate’ from one partner to another — associates work directly with a small team of partners and associates. We have found that this system enables even our most recently hired associates to work directly with our clients and to quickly assume substantial responsibility for important matters, while at the same time preventing undue specialization.
Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2021: Berkeley, Chicago, Columbia, Cornell Job Fair, Duke, Emory New York Job Fair, Fordham, George Washington New York Job Fair, Georgetown, Harvard, Harvard BLSA Job Fair, Howard, Lavender Law Career Fair, LeGaL LGBT Career Fair, Michigan, Northeast BLSA Job Fair, New York University, Northwestern, Stanford, Texas New York Job Fair, Vanderbilt Job Fair, University of Pennsylvania, Virginia, Yale..
Recruitment outside OCIs: Clerkship hiring, LL.M. hiring for London office.
Summer associate profile: Our summer program is designed to provide law students with an experience that mirrors the life of a first year associate. Summer associates experience the day-to-day working life of a Cravath lawyer and gain valuable hands-on experience working directly for, and with, our clients.
Summer program components: Prior to the summer, we collect department and assignment preferences (type of matter or practice area, specific teams or partners). Upon arrival, summer associates are assigned to a partner from their selected department, along with an associate mentor. This partner is responsible for assigning work, providing feedback, integrating summer associates fully into their teams and ensuring that the experience resembles that of a first-year associate.
Additionally, there are a number of social and cultural activities including a party at the Central Park Zoo, Broadway shows, Hudson River Sail, the Apollo Theater, Shakespeare in the Park and various professional sporting events.
Recruitment website: www.cravath.com
This Firm's Rankings in
USA Guide, 2021
- Antitrust (Band 1)
- Banking & Finance (Band 1)
- Bankruptcy/Restructuring: The Elite (Band 6)
- Corporate/M&A: The Elite (Band 1)
- Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation (Band 3)
- Environment: Mainly Transactional (Band 1)
- Intellectual Property: Patent (Band 4)
- Litigation: General Commercial: The Elite (Band 1)
- Litigation: Securities (Band 1)
- Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations: The Elite (Band 5)
- Media & Entertainment: Corporate (Band 1)
- Tax (Band 1)
USA - Nationwide
- Antitrust (Band 1)
- Banking & Finance (Band 1)
- Capital Markets: Equity: Manager Counsel (Band 2)
- Capital Markets: High-Yield Debt (Band 3)
- Capital Markets: Investment Grade Debt: Issuer Counsel (Band 2)
- Capital Markets: Investment Grade Debt: Manager Counsel (Band 1)
- Corporate Crime & Investigations: The Elite (Band 5)
- Corporate/M&A: The Elite (Band 1)
- Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation (Band 4)
- Environment: Mainly Transactional (Band 2)
- FCPA (Band 5)
- Securities: Litigation (Band 1)
- Securities: Regulation: Advisory (Band 1)
- Tax: Corporate & Finance (Band 1)
Visit Cravath's careers page for more information.