Crowell & Moring LLP - The Inside View

Come for the top-notch government contracts work, stay for the progressive culture. 

GIVEN what’s been going on in politics recently, if you heard the phrase “four-foot inflatable duck mascots” in the same sentence as “government contracts,” you’d have every right to sigh, look away and continue blocking out this crazy, crazy world. If you do that though, you’ll never understand Crowell & Moring, simultaneously “the premier firm for government contracts in the country,” and an organization which “makes huge efforts to be whimsical and inviting.”

In just 40 years of existence, this DC powerhouse has turned the bit about its government prowess from an opinion into a fact. Chambers USA has bestowed the firm with its very highest ranking for government contracts work for the past 13 years. That's longer than any of the four other highest-ranked firms in this area.For those with a passion for it, “you feel like a kid in a candy shop," one junior enthused, explaining that "the firm is full of extremely bright people and leaders in their field.” But while government contracts is this firm’s forte, Crowell attracts praise in many complementary areas. For example, Chambers USA recognizes the strength of the firm’s international trade, climate change, healthcare, antitrust, white-collar, and environment capabilities. No surprise, then, that sources were confident of the firm’s reputation in the capitol. However, one junior conceded that “outside DC, the firm name is not the best known,” adding that “if you’re in the game for status, Crowell may not be the firm for you.”New York, San Fran, LA and Orange County all take a few junior associates, but most are based in the firm’s DC headquarters. 

The Work 

Prior to joining, associates rank their preferred practice groups. The firm then assigns each associate up to two groups to draw work from based on those preferences, plus the firm’s business needs. Sources felt the system was good for “those who don’t know where they want to specialize early on,” adding that “you can choose to specialize at any point.” Most found a focus two years in. Staffing partners accounted for 25% of associates’ workload, sources estimated, while “the rest comes from organic connections made with partners.” 

Highlighting the regional differences, sources explained that in LA you have high-stakes litigation and a strong focus on the healthcare industry; Orange County is focused on antitrust; while New Yorkhandles a lot of white-collar crime and investigations work.” Nearly all of the government contracts work is done in DC, but sources made clear that "the firm is happy for you to reach out to partners in other offices and will make the effort to integrate you into their work-streams.” 

In the government contracts department, the firm’s lawyers might often start by advising companies on how to obtain government contracts, but matters can soon progress to encompass bid protests, internal investigations for companies, disputes and compliance counseling. One source described cases where “a foreign-owned entity gains an interest in a US company, which creates national security implications. We’d be making sure the company doesn’t gain control over a government contract.” Associates could "draft and submit security plans outlining all the security measures that will be in place.” Drafting opportunities can similarly be found in investigations work, where juniors reported doing everything from “drafting interview outlines for potential witnesses" to "briefing senior executives of companies.” Work comes from sectors including healthcare, private equity, and defense and aerospace. 

Government contracts clients: AT&T, Amazon Web Services, Lockheed Martin, BAE Systems, Ideal Innovations. Defended a $2 billion contract awarded to Accenture Federal Services Consulting by the Department of Energy against a protest by ActioNet, an IT service management company. 

Other groups taking a healthy amount of associates include international trade (where attorneys tackle customs, export control, and trade remedies and policies) and healthcare (which does both regulatory and litigation work). But our sample of junior associates featured an equal amount of associates working in the tort group. “Here there’s broadly a big split between product liability litigation, which covers things like medical and pharma devices, and a regulatory side that frequently does FDA [Food and Drug Administration] and NHTSA [National Highway Traffic Safety Administration] compliance work,” sources explained. Sources praised the nature of the cases here, which "are very leanly staffed and very client-facing." One source described their time on "a beautifully mid-sized deal where I was the only associate. I was able to attend and help prepare clients for deposition, as well as strategize with the partner." In a regulatory capacity, attorneys also "provide counsel to companies who have may have a defective product, helping them to conduct removals and handle their correspondence with the Consumer Product Safety Commission."

Tort clients: General Motors, Shell Oil, Newell Rubbermaid. Represents Shell in nationwide litigation centered on the gasoline additive MTBE. MTBE rose in prominence for its polluting effect on groundwater supplies following gas leaks. 

Healthcare clients:UnitedHealth Group, DaVita, University of California. Crowell represented eight Blue Cross and Blue Shield companies against antitrust claims that the federation of 36 health insurers they are a member of limits competition.

Pro Bono & Hours 

Billable hours: 2,000 target

For our interviewees, Crowell’s strong range of pro bono work fitted into a culture that champions progressive social causes. "Other firms won’t wade into political issues, but here we are progressive and unapologetic about it – there are no gag orders on the type of cases you can do. We’ve worked on planned parenthood cases, and recently the firm even sent out a 12-person team to Alabama to work on a three-week-long voting rights case. Some people were flying back every weekend!” Chair of the firm's managing board, Phil Inglima, stresses the importance of impartiality, however: “Our pro bono partners work hard to provide recommendations to our associates based on their interests and our practice areas, rather than being based on any political stripe.” In our interviews we heard of associates counseling nonprofits on data security and helping immigrants with asylum applications. 

An unlimited number of associates’ yearly billable hours can be pro bono. Several of our interviewees we spoke to had spent in excess of 300 hours on pro bono matters, “without any comment by partners.” On the contrary, many pointed out that “you actually get partners telling you that you haven’t done enough,” and there’s a minimum expectation that all associates contribute 60 hours. But there were still concerns. One source told us: “I’m worried that it will have an impact on my bonus. Management have said they will give more weight to people who have billed more fee-paying work than pro bono. I get where they are coming from, but it does seem unfair in light of their ‘unlimited’ policy.”

Pro bono hours

  • For all US attorneys: 41,778
  • Average per US attorney: 86

Bonuses are calculated on a 70:30 system. “If you hit 2,000 hours, you automatically get 70% of the available bonus,” sources explained. The remaining 30% is discretionary, based on factors such as “client development” and “size and complexity of work,” though many felt more transparency was needed here. In 2018, Crowell made the decision not to match the market and raise associate salaries to $190,000, a decision which sources were mostly supportive of. “Crowell is not a firm that works you to death, so the lifestyle tradeoff is worth it.” The attitude to vacation stuck out: “You can confidently take off a few weeks every year,” while another lauded the ability "to actually be able to switch off. A lot of times, people put on an out-of-office saying they’re out of the country and to please contact someone else.” 

Culture & Diversity

So, what about that duck we mentioned? That’s the firm’s mascot of course, and something that has been part of the firm since it split with Jones Day over 40 years ago. You can read the full story behind the duck on the firm’s website, but incomers should know that “the ducks are everywhere.” And now they have company: there’s a beer-drinking squirrel in town. “It’s the picture on the email chain to announce, ‘Cheap Booze Day’ that occurs every Friday.” Sources felt this was a “refreshing break from the pretentious drinks events put on by other firms.” It was “little things” such as these, along with “bean-bag throwing tournaments” and “casino nights,” that associates felt went “a long way to making it feel less like a corporate operation and more like a community.”

In keeping with the firm’s progressive vibe, sources were also proud of the firm for signing up to the Mansfield Rule 3.0. This initiative commits the firm to considering a group of candidates for promotions, senior-level hiring, and inclusion on client proposals who are at least 50% women or diverse attorneys. More sources gave praise to the firm’s policy of flexible working schedules for individuals with families, while others highlighted the success of a recent minorities event: “The firm reserved the National Museum of African American History and Culture for a night to host a panel of guest speakers.”

Career Development 

While sources felt there was “no noticeable deficit of mid-level associates at the firm,” they did point out that “some people go to the DOJ,” as well as taking in-house roles. Those wishing to make partner also felt well supported in the firm. One junior associate explained: “Increasingly I’m being brought into roles that concern client management, such as preparing proposals and drafting client pitches. Being brought to the table in that way gives me confidence that I am an integral member of the firm.”

Strategy & Future

Crowell suffered a drop in revenue in 2018, something which goes against the grain in an industry that has seen growth overall. Chair of the firm's managing board, Phil Inglima, doesn’t see it as a cause for concern, however: “In 2016 and 2017, we had our two largest contingency recovery years ever, which spiked our overall revenues quite a bit.” Contingency revenue, in case you were wondering, usually stems from work already done. When the firm is finally paid, it can inflate revenue figures for that year. So, Inglima says, the important thing is that “in 2018, we actually had our largest single year of growth in base business.” As for the future, the London office is growing and is soon to start hiring junior trainees. “We are being quite bullish there, and I think our growth trajectory is looking very positive, alongside other offices such as New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles."

Get Hired

The first stage: recruitment on and off campus 

OCI applicants interviewed: 522

Interviewees outside OCI: 12 

Crowell conducts OCIs at a mix of schools across the country, as well as schools local to its offices. At each school, the firm sees about 15 to 20 students, though hiring partner Ryan Tisch notes: “We see an increasing number of write-in candidates, and we always ask our OCI interviewers to fit in additional candidates at lunch and before and after scheduled interviews. I don’t want to miss a 'true fit' because he or she didn’t make it through the school’s OCI lottery and onto our schedule.” 

The interviews are usually conducted by a team of two attorneys. "We like to send a team of two, and we try to pick people who are dissimilar to one another," says Ryan Tisch. "That means partners with associates, different practice groups, and people with diverse perspectives in lots of other ways. That way our candidates can get a range of questions answered, and a range of answers to their questions." Interviewers will try to gauge why candidates want to work in law, as well as what their goals and working style are like, and how they see themselves interacting with clients and fellow attorneys. 

Top tips for this stage: 

“We love candidates who can talk concretely through specific examples from their educational, personal or working lives and tie those experiences to their expectations for a career at Crowell & Moring.”– hiring partner Ryan Tisch



Applicants invited to second stage interviews: 83 

Those invited to callbacks usually start with a tour of the offices, followed by four one-on-one interviews with a “diverse and relevant” range of lawyers. At this stage, interviewers are looking to hear about “specific formative experiences.” For example, Ryan Tisch often “asks interviewees to talk me through a thorny problem they have worked through, and ask follow-up questions about how they might do things the same or differently given things they have learned since then.” In addition, interviewers look for people who can relate to the person in the room. On the firm's side, “we try to identify interviewers who are great at connecting and who naturally ask questions that enrich a conversation.” 

Top tips for this stage: 

“Don’t be afraid to ask questions – we are most impressed when these are well informed and based on some insights into the legal profession, our firm or our client base.” – hiring partner Ryan Tisch 


Summer Program 

Offers: 35 

Acceptances: 16 

During the summer, "there is no rotation," Ryan Tisch explains, "and we ask our summers to work with us to design a summer experience that helps them 'get' the firm and decide what areas, groups and colleagues they might be interested in getting to know better. It’s a very self-directed process." There are work managers available who "work with our summers to identify and staff assignments to hit designated practice areas and build individual relationships." There’s also a full training program, which Tisch tells us is “designed to hit the high points of practice from a young lawyer’s perspective.” 

Top tips for this stage: 

“The best summers and associates talk to other lawyers whose practices interest them and invite themselves to take part. We love that.”– hiring partner Ryan Tisch 


Interview with Phil Inglima, chair of the managing board

Chambers Associate: How did the firm perform last year? What do you attribute the fall in revenue to?

Phil Inglima: There was a dip in revenue, but it’s important to emphasize that we measure our success in two different ways. The first is total revenue, and the second is how we perform against our base business target. For us, the latter is more important. In 2016 and 2017, we had our two largest contingency recovery years ever, which spiked our overall revenues quite a bit. But those spikes can vary significantly from year to year, increasing our bottom line greatly one year and not as much the next. It is part of the nature of contingency work. So even though our overall revenue declined slightly in 2018, we actually had our largest single year of growth in base business, growing by more than $25 million to $355.2 million up from $329.9 million in fiscal 2017.

CA: The firm continues to build up its practice in London with lateral hires and plans to hire its first trainees. Does this imply that the impact of Brexit isn’t something the firm is concerned about?

PI: Yes,we don’t consider Brexit to be an impediment to our growth trajectory in London. In most of our offices, whether in the US or abroad, we seek a balance of work between the domestic market, and that which bridges across our offices internationally. We are very confident of our team in London, which is made up of people specializing in a variety of practices from financial fraud to liquidation, and on matters originating both in the UK and the US. We are being quite bullish there, and I think our growth trajectory is looking very positive, alongside other offices such as New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles.

CA: Many associates spoke of the firm’s commitment to pro bono and liberal causes. Would you accept the label of being left-leaning?

PI: I don’t think we identify as leaning one way or another. In fact, I think it’s important in these days of highly charged politics that we avoid allowing any one title or label to dominate the discussion in the workplace. As such, we try to avoid picking from just one side of the aisle. Our pro bono partners work hard to provide recommendations to our associates based on their interests and our practice areas, rather than being based on any political stripe. Overall, we engage on a very diverse portfolio of work.

CA: Is there a problem with associate salaries becoming too high?

PI: I wouldn’t call it a problem because it serves as an indication of the prosperity of the legal market. Young lawyers are important to our firm’s ability to generate revenue, and we believe that it is crucial that our compensation system reflects associates receiving a fulfilling mix of experiences that will develop them and cultivate them as individual talents. That includes pro bono, business development and client engagement opportunities.

CA: Do you believe that a downturn in the market would cause a reduction in associate salaries?

PI: It’s always hard to go backwards so I don’t think salaries would go down; rather, firms would have to consider reducing the number of first years they hire. In 2008, many firms were forced to reduce the number of first years they hired, but we were fortunate enough that we didn’t feel the heat too much.

CA: What measures does the firm have in place in consideration of mental health and burnout?

PI: This is an important topic and I’m glad it’s getting the airtime it deserves. We continue to try very hard to develop an environment where all lawyers have a variety of resources available to them, including access to a confidential service provider, and one that avoids inflicting any stigma on those who reach out.

In support of this, we had a project earlier this year which involved partners, associates and lawyers at every level, getting together to talk about these issues and discuss their personal experiences. We want to make it known that this is a topic that should absolutely not be treated with shame or considered something to be quietly addressed.

CA: How would you define the firm culture? 

PI: Our firm was established around the notion of culture 40 years ago. Firstly, we wanted genuine democracy and a sense that those in partnership could directly influence the direction of the firm. Secondly, while excellence and client service are our number one priority, we wanted an atmosphere where we are supporting each other with a focus on true collaboration. Thirdly, we maintain that our pro bono clients are just as important as our paying clients.

Diversity and inclusion also are essential cultural elements of any successful firm, but we have recognized in the last few years that the organic rate of change isn’t fast enough. That’s why we have accelerated our efforts. For example, we are participating in Mansfield 3.0, an industry measure that examines whether law firms are affirmatively considering women, lawyers of color, and LGBTQ+ lawyers. We have made a commitment that at least 30% of the candidate pool for significant leadership and governance roles as well as promotions to equity partner and senior-level lateral hiring will be women or diverse candidates.

CA: What do you see as the greatest challenge facing the firm and broader legal industry?

PI: The digitization of the economy and workplace. For us, it’s an opportunity as well as a challenge, and we have been very focused on working through our digital transformation initiative, which is largely an acknowledgment of the issues facing our clients.

Technology has dramatically changed how legal services are rendered, with huge pressures to conduct matters in the most economical and efficient way. The reality is legal services at their core are built around judgment, which isn’t going to be radically altered by technology, but increasingly there is pressure exerted by clients, under pressure from their own internal economics, to make decisions in nanoseconds.

Crowell & Moring LLP

1001 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW,
Washington, DC,

  • Head Office: Washington, DC
  • Number of domestic offices: 5
  • Number of international offices: 2
  • Worldwide revenue: $433.3 million
  • Partners (US): 205
  • Associates (US): 143
  • Counsel/Sr Counsel (US): 165
  • Contacts  
  • Main recruitment contact: Katie Mastaler Director of Attorney Recruiting
  • Hiring partner: Chahira Solh
  • Diversity officer: Don Smith
  • Recruitment details 
  • Entry-level associates starting in 2020: 16
  • Clerking policy: We encourage clerkship opportunities.
  • Summers joining/anticipated 2020: 
  • 1Ls: 1, 2Ls: 25
  • Summers joining/anticipated 2020 split by office: Washington, DC: 16, New York: 2, Los Angeles: 3, Orange County, CA: 2, San Francisco: 3
  • Summer salary 2020: 
  • 1Ls: $3,462/week 2Ls: $3,462/week
  • Split summers offered? Case by case
  • Can summers spend time in an overseas office? No

Main areas of work
Advertising and media, antitrust, aviation, bankruptcy and creditors’ rights, C&M international, digital transformation, e-discovery and information management, environment and natural resources, energy, financial services, government affairs, government contracts, healthcare, insurance/reinsurance, intellectual property, international dispute resolution, international trade, investigations, labor and employment, litigation and trial, plaintiff ’s recovery, privacy and cybersecurity, tax, mass tort, product and consumer litigation, trade associations, trade secrets, transaction and corporate/securities, and white collar and regulatory enforcement.

Firm profile
Crowell & Moring LLP is an international law firm with nearly 550 lawyers representing clients in litigation and arbitration, regulatory, and transactional matters. The firm is internationally recognized for its representation of Fortune 500 companies in high-stakes litigation, as well as its ongoing commitment to pro bono service and diversity. The firm has offices in Washington, DC, New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Orange County, London, and Brussels.

Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2020:
Berkeley, Cardozo, Chicago, Columbia, Cornell, Duke, Fordham, George Washington, Georgetown, Harvard, Howard, Maryland, Michigan, UC Hastings, UC Irvine, UCLA, USC, University of Virginia

Recruitment outside OCIs: We participate in the following job fairs: Lavender Job Fair, On Tour Interview Program (in LA), Bay Area Diversity Career Fair, Loyola Patent Law Career Fair

Summer associate profile: The firm looks for highly qualified, entrepreneurial candidates with diverse backgrounds. We prefer candidates with law review, journal or moot court experience and/or strong relevant legal employment experience, including judicial clerkships; as well as demonstrated leadership capabilities.

Summer program components: The diversity in our summer program reflects the diversity of our firm at large. We want summer associates who take the practice of law and client service more seriously than they take themselves, who will contribute to the life of the firm, and who share our sense of responsibility to the community. Most of our junior associates come from our Summer Associate Program. We want you to go back to law school knowing who we are, what we do, and how we do it. Work for summer associates includes mostly short-term projects that will allow you to experience as many practice areas and as many lawyers as possible. Summer associates have the opportunity to participate in workshops and seminars on such topics as ‘The Law Firm as a Business’ and ‘Oral Advocacy Training’. In addition, the firm offers summer associates opportunities to accompany Crowell & Moring attorneys to ‘Live Events’, which are real-world activities such as court hearings, client meetings, depositions, presentations and negotiations, to observe our lawyers in action.

Social media:
Linkedin: crowell-&-moring-llp
Twitter: @Crowell_Moring

This Firm's Rankings in
USA Guide, 2020

Ranked Departments

    • Antitrust (Band 3)
    • Healthcare (Band 4)
    • Litigation: General Commercial (Band 5)
    • Antitrust (Band 4)
    • Corporate/M&A & Private Equity (Band 3)
    • Environment (Band 2)
    • Healthcare (Band 2)
    • Insurance: Insurer (Band 2)
    • Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations (Band 3)
    • Tax (Band 5)
    • Healthcare (Band 3)
    • Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations (Band 4)
    • Advertising: Litigation (Band 3)
    • Climate Change (Band 2)
    • Energy: Electricity (Regulatory & Litigation) (Band 5)
    • Environment (Band 4)
    • Government Contracts (Band 1)
    • Healthcare (Band 4)
    • Insurance: Dispute Resolution: Insurer (Band 2)
    • International Trade: Customs (Band 2)
    • International Trade: Export Controls & Economic Sanctions (Band 4)

Visit Crowell & Moring's careers page for more information.