So you want to be a part of it? Right through the very heart of it? Make a brand new start of it at this legendary BigLaw outfit.
When making decisions, it’s important to weigh up the pros and cons. It’s the case whether you’re deciding on mint choc-chip or mango-flavored gelato for dessert, all the way to which law firm you want to join to kickstart your associate career. Luckily for our interviewees, the latter decision was pretty straightforward: “I knew I couldn’t go wrong with Cravath.” So, what makes Cravath the foolproof option according to our interviewees? Firstly: if you’re still hung up on trying out the different flavors of law, the firm’s got you sorted. “I think everyone comes out of law school without a clear understanding of what type of law they want to practice,” one source admitted. Thanks to Cravath’s world-renowned, century-old rotation system, associates switch practices every 18 months or so, which ultimately “makes for really well-rounded lawyers” by the time you’re up for partnership. Secondly: “The brand name and history were attractive,” one associate recalled. These two things go hand in hand: there’s the aforementioned rotation system, and the ‘Cravath Scale’ which is the BigLaw blueprint for setting enviable associate salaries. Put quite simply: what James Bond is to the spy genre, Cravath is to BigLaw. And when all’s said and done, “Cravath’s name goes a long way” on associates’ resumés.
“Cravath’s name goes a long way.”
For many of our interviewees, joining Cravath was a now-or-never scenario. “It’s hard to come in after the fact,” sources noted. Indeed, the firm rarely hires laterally, which ultimately “feeds into a cohesive one-firm mindset. All Cravath lawyers from associates up have gone through the same training process. It forges the Cravath identity.” It’s an identity that comes with seven top-tier nationwide Chambers USA rankings acknowledging the firm’s prowess in areas like banking & finance, capital markets, corporate/M&A, antitrust, securities, and tax. In New York, the firm is further recognized for its environment, general commercial litigation, and media & entertainment know-how. It’s said good things come in threes; coincidentally, Cravath operates out of just three offices located in New York, DC, and London.
Strategy & Future
Further on the rule of three: the firm recently made moves to open up its new base in DC, joined by a trio of former leaders of the FDIC (Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation) and the SEC. The office’s leadership includes former FDIC chairman Jelena McWilliams, who joined as DC’s managing partner. Looking to the future, the office aims to counsel clients across industries on high-stakes regulatory, enforcement, compliance, and investigations matters.
Associates typically undergo rotations in either the corporate or litigation departments, though a handful of associates also join the tax, executive compensation & benefits (ECB), and trusts & estates (T&E) groups. Corporate associates work within partner groups, which usually consist of four-to-five partners, and rotate between subject areas. Litigation associates, however, are assigned to a specific partner. A “mutual selection process” helps associates decide on their next rotation: “You speak about your goals with the partner who presides over the rotation system,” an insider explained. With that in mind, an insider noted, “It can be difficult to express what kinds of matters you want to be working on,” as the staffing system means associates are usually working on whatever their assigned partner(s) are working on. “That said, I’ve expressed my preferences through my annual review, and they’re pretty open to it.”
“You’re kind of playing the quarterback role on an M&A deal.”
Under the corporate umbrella, juniors have their pick of M&A, capital markets, banking, credit finance, corporate governance, intellectual property, and restructuring work. Of those areas, sources explained, “M&A, capital markets, and banking are really the core competencies of Cravath.” Industry-wise, this bunch do it all, from technology, to shipping & mailing, to food & beverages, to infrastructure and healthcare providers.
Within an M&A rotation, associates are exposed to a range of acquisitions on both the buy and sell side, including carveouts, joint venture work, shareholder activism and start-up fundraising. “The large public company sales work is interesting as you get to look at the economics of the deal,” an associate detailed. “There’s a lot of thought about Delaware law and compliance with board duties that goes into it.” On such deals “juniors might own the disclosure letter and the ancillary agreements. If you’re lucky enough to have been on the entire deal, you may drive the closing process – even as a first-year!” Essentially, rookies play the quarterback role. Associates “tend to drive things a bit more” as they gain seniority, we heard. “You’re doing the same kinds of tasks, but you’re taking less direction from those more senior.”
Capital markets-focused associates gain experiences on the issuer and underwriter side of equity debt offerings and work on de-SPAC transactions and IPOS. They also carry out fundraising work, playing the corporate adviser role for clients. “With IPOs you’re often working on the case over a matter of several months, so you get to know the company and what makes it tick. They’re the kind of deals you can really get invested in,” an interviewee explained of their experience. What’s more, our sources noted responsibility was quick to ramp up in this group: “Early on, I was very clearly the most junior person on any deal, but as I’ve progressed within the last six-to-eight months, I’m now running deals with just a partner, or working in tandem with associates just above me.”
Corporate/M&A clients: IBM, Johnson & Johnson, Unilever. Represented Amazon in its acquisition of MGM Studios.
“I wrote my first motion to dismiss two weeks after joining.”
Meanwhile, litigation associates work on a range of antitrust, business tort, contract dispute and securities matters. “We also do a fair bit of advising for corporate groups that deals with potential litigation components of corporate transactions,” an insider explained. “The subject matter of antitrust work is fascinating; it gets to the heart of how a government should structure the law and the economy,” one source told us. Of their experience across multiple matters, an insider explained: “The cases were all at different phases of litigation; on some I worked on motions to dismiss, on others I went to trial, and I have one case going through discovery at the moment.” Regardless of what you’re working on, newbies should be ready to hit the ground running: “I wrote my first motion to dismiss two weeks after joining. Obviously, it went through a million edits, but that is emblematic of the experience I’ve gained so far.”
General commercial litigation clients: The Walt Disney Company, Boston Red Sox Baseball Club, Tesla Board of Directors. Defending Colgate-Palmolive against multiple actions alleging customers developed cancer from exposure to the company’s talc products contaminated with asbestos.
“Thrown into the deep end” and “trial by fire” are just a few of the phrases that came up during our discussions with juniors about training at Cravath. “Ultimately, you can sit through trainings and meetings all day, but you get the real learning through doing the work,” an associate concluded. With that said, formal opportunities such as mock negotiations, mock depositions and mock trials are available to juniors, alongside “a full suite of classes for any type of learning you want to do,” though “going and doing is always more complicated than the training makes it out to be!” a source laughed.
“…learning the language of all different parts of the department is valuable.”
“The most beneficial part of being an associate at Cravath is how much the firm works together as a whole, spurred on by the rotation system,” an insider detailed. “It creates a natural environment for people to lean on each other for information and advice.” Another added, “there’s generally a lot of overlap on matters, so learning the language of all different parts of the department is valuable.” Formally, newbies are also assigned an associate mentor in their first year and a partner mentor from second year onwards. As an associate, “you can also be a mentor right off the bat. In my first year, I was a mentor to summer associates.”
Further down the line, there’s the understanding that “most people don’t make partner.”The firm doesn’t have any non-equity partners, meaning the ratio of partners to associates equals out at roughly 1:3. What’s more, associates at the firm remain in the rotation system until they make partner. According to our sources, attrition tends to happen around third to fourth year: “By then, you’ve been through two rotations, and if you want to specialize, Cravath may not be the best place to stay.” Luckily for those looking to move on, insiders told us candidly: “Hand in hand with the firm’s reputation are the exit opportunities.”
Hours & Compensation
Billable hours: no requirement
At the top-end of BigLaw, you’ll find high-stakes work and leading compensation, but you’ll also find long hours. “People can expect to be billing in the low 200s most months. If things get really busy it can go as high as 300, which is unsustainable and thankfully not frequent!” an insider shared. Overall, our interviewees estimated billing anywhere between 2,000 to 2,400 hours annually. Daily working patterns “depend on where your clients are,” an associate explained. “If you’re working with people in Europe, those days start a little earlier, but if you’re working on the East Coast there’s a bit of a later culture where calls and meetings don’t usually happen before 10am.” There are the occasional longer nights which see associates “stay in the office until 9 or 9.30pm, by which point you transition home to continue there.”
Nonetheless, our interviewees were keen to highlight that “if you’re in the office past 8pm, you get dinner and a cab home!” Similarly, “when late-night work comes through, it’s accompanied by a follow-up like, ‘Hey, I’m sorry to call you so late!’ The days can be long but working with people who are respectful of your time goes a long way.” For our sources, the lack of billable target coupled with the staffing system means “if there’s a slow period, I’m not worried about going out to find work. I can go home early without feeling like I’m not getting the experience I should be getting.” Ultimately, the firm’s lockstep bonus system means “you’re not going to get a bigger bonus by billing more,” so there’s no incentive to stockpile work.
Despite the absence of a billing target, all pro bono work counts towards associates' billable hours. “You won’t have a partner chastising you for billing too much pro bono as long as you’re balancing it with your other case work,” an insider told us. “There was even a time when one of the partners I was working with reached out with this pro bono matter that they thought would be good experience for me,” we heard. Admittedly, involvement is “something you have to be realistic about,” a source explained candidly. “Your availability to take on pro bono ebbs and flows, but the firm offers the opportunity to take on the matter with someone else if you think you’ll be particularly busy, or you don’t want 100% of the responsibility.”
Opportunities up for grabs include (but are certainly not limited to) housing matters, immigration matters involving humanitarian parole cases for Afghan refugees, children’s hospital matters in tandem with St Jude Children’s Hospital, and domestic violence support. The firm also has longstanding relationships with a number of pro bono organizations, including Lawyers Alliance which sources told us brought in more corporate-aligned matters, like corporate disputes or setting up LLCs. Matters are circulated on a daily basis, and juniors get involved by expressing their interest to the firm’s pro bono coordinators or the firm's pro bono partner.
Pro bono hours
- For all US attorneys: 35,166
- Average per US attorney: 82.9
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither was Cravath’s prowess; it’s the firm’s continuous strides towards excellence which sets the bar so high. “Everyone demands high-quality work product. People have high expectations for the work any associate is putting together,” an insider explained. “We’re dedicated to excellence, and that means it can be an intense place sometimes because everyone cares about giving the best work product possible.” However, the journey towards excellence is by no means a lonely one: “Not having a billable hours requirement or a free market system means associates aren’t stressed about giving other associates time. It feeds into junior associates’ relationships,” one source explained. Similarly, “if you’re someone who is nerdy and likes talking about work during your cafeteria conversations, you’ll have a great time!”
"One night we all pooled our dinner budget and had a spread!”
Thanks to the rotation system, “teams really do bond and work closely” as associates are “encouraged to be a resource to one another.” One interviewee recounted, “I was on a team that was going through an intense period of deadlines. The senior associate on the team got a room set up over several weeks with computers and whiteboards and invited us to join them. It was brilliant! It turned what should’ve been a difficult and terrible couple of weeks into a really productive, fun time. We were spit-balling ideas and editing each other in real time. One night we all pooled our dinner budget and had a spread!”
Diversity, Equity & Inclusion
“Diversity goes with the firm’s ethos,” one associate pointed out. “The best client service means having a team that has diverse backgrounds.” Our sources were full of praise for the firm’s hiring efforts: “Our first-year classes are always a 50/50 split of men and women, though as the years go on a lot of women tend to leave BigLaw generally. I don’t think it’s Cravath-specific… it’s not a boys’ club by any means!” Case in point, just under 40% of the firm’s recently promoted partner class are female. Proving that the firm doesn’t just consider representation at the partner level, Cravath also has a Women’s Initiative group which regularly meets for lunches and drinks. “Aside from the events, what’s been most important for me are the opportunities for mentorship I’ve been able to find, regardless of whether the mentor is a man or a woman,” one associate shared.
Similarly, “new classes are quite diverse,” an interviewee noted, “though when you look at sixth- and seventh-years diversity trails off a little.” The firm’s 2022 summer class consisted of around 44% people of color and 9% LGBTQ+ associates, while the 2023 summer class was 51% women, 50% people of color, and 11% LGBTQ+. “Because we don’t typically hire laterally, the impetus is on making sure diverse associates who are recruited early on stay at the firm and have opportunities to grow and remain,” an insider explained.
The first stage: recruitment on and off campus
OCI applicants interviewed: undisclosed
Interviewees outside OCI: undisclosed
Cravath sees close to 900 students at over 20 schools and job fairs for approximately 90-100 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 mainly 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 10am and leave around 3 or 4pm.” 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 hybrid way of working, the firm still organizes 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 about 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
Cravath, Swaine & Moore LLP
825 Eighth Avenue,
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 2023:
Berkeley, Chicago, Columbia, Columbia Office of Career Services and Professional Development 1L Law Firm Diversity Expo, Cornell Job Fair, Duke, Emory New York Job Fair, Fordham, George Washington New York Job Fair, Georgetown, Harvard, Harvard APALSA 1L Career Fair and APALSA Conference, Harvard BLSA Job Fair, Howard, Lavender Law Career Fair, Michigan, Northeast BLSA Job Fair, New York University, NYU BALSA 1L Job Search Virtual Career Fair, NYU Office of Career Services (“OCS”) 1L Diversity Career Fair, Northwestern, University of Pennsylvania, Stanford, Texas New York Job Fair, Vanderbilt Job Fair, Vault’s 1L Career Development Summit for Diverse Law Students, 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, 2023
- Antitrust (Band 1)
- Banking & Finance (Band 2)
- Bankruptcy/Restructuring: The Elite (Band 6)
- Corporate/M&A: The Elite (Band 1)
- Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation (Band 2)
- 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 2)
- 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)
- Life Sciences (Band 5)
- Securities: Litigation (Band 1)
- Securities: Regulation: Advisory (Band 1)
- Tax: Corporate & Finance (Band 1)
More from Cravath: