Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP - The Inside View

A “very calm” culture isn’t what you associate with BigLaw in the Big Apple, but Davis Polk juniors say it’s “a blessing” at this busy New York powerhouse.

WHEN you’re sifting through the crème-de-la-crème of BigLaw firms, sources agreed “you can’t go wrong with Davis Polk – it’s been an elite name for a long time.” In fact, the firm can trace its origins back to mid-1800s Manhattan, making it one of the city’s oldest law firms and nothing short of a New York institution. Chambers USA heaps praise on the firm’s capabilities in the Big Apple with tip-top rankings in areas including corporate/M&A, bankruptcy, securities litigation, tax, and more. On a nationwide basis there’s all of the above, as well as banking and finance, financial services regulation, and several capital markets categories. Along with M&A, this is an area of particular expertise for the firm across offices. Just look at the firm’s Chambers Global rankings. The fact that more than half of the firm’s 20-odd top-tier rankings are capital markets related speaks for itself.

Davis Polk’s overseas offices outnumber the domestic bases: there’s Beijing, Hong Kong, London, Madrid, Paris, São Paulo and Tokyo. The majority of junior associate recruits (just under 90%) are housed in New York, but a handful of (mostly corporate) juniors also join the Northern California office in Menlo Park, while DC takes in an even smaller number of newbies.

The Work

“As a summer, you’re encouraged to try a range of different things,” one junior recalled, “and the firm goes to great lengths to let you work on what you want to work on.” Summers usually have the option to sample work from the corporate, litigation or tax department. A similar number of juniors are ultimately recruited into both the litigation and transactional practices, and less than 10% join the tax group. Work assignment differs depending on the practice group – corporate associates’ time is overseen by a practice resource manager “who we send our schedule to every two weeks and they then allocate work based on our capacity. It’s a nice system as the work is evenly distributed.”

In New York, corporate juniors have the option of doing two six-month rotations “in which you can try two different areas before specializing.” Associates might rotate through capital markets, M&A, and finance – just to name a few. Some may do a third rotation, but we were told that isn’t very common.By contrast, juniors in Northern California don’t get siloed into subgroups. The firm handles restructuring, investment management, derivatives and structured products, capital markets and finance, but the centerpiece of the firm’s transactional practice is its M&A work. These complex deals can often be in the billions of dollars. Finance is another key area of work for DP: “We handle the typical leveraged finance and investment-grade acquisition financings in mid-market deals.” The firm does work on both the private equity side and with lenders, “so we represent large investment banks, hedge funds and financial institutions who act as investors lending money to corporate borrowers and sponsors.” Structured financings, debt restructuring, bridge loans and recapitalizations also come under the umbrella of finance at DP. This group is reportedly a good place to be if you’re looking for a challenge. “Since the teams are leanly staffed with a partner and a mid-level, it’s great to get substantive experience,” juniors explained, admitting “it’s challenging at first, but it’s definitely good progression.” A typical day consists of “going to a lot of meetings, taking client calls and drafting documents. The partners send over their comments on the draft in the evening and we then review those.”

Transactional clients: PepsiCo, ExxonMobil, Mastercard, Heineken, Comcast. Advised healthcare benefit company Aetna on its $77 billion acquisition by CVS Health.

“Anything that puts me in court is sick!”

DP litigators start off as generalists, “but there is a substantial degree of flexibility with the type of work you want to do.” One junior for example focused on civil litigation exclusively, relishing that “anything that puts me in court is sick!” That’s sick in the Urban Dictionary sense, we presume. New York juniors told us the team deals with “the complete spectrum” of litigation. “We do regular civil litigation, antitrust, bankruptcy and international arbitration.” The firm is particularly well known for its securities litigation practice, with matters related to accounting irregularities, IPOs, cybersecurity and cryptocurrency. The firm’s white-collar crime and government investigations practice also handles work connected to cybersecurity and data privacy, as well as anti-corruption, the False Claims Act, anti-money laundering and sanctions, market manipulation, and crisis management in the wake of the #MeToo movement. DC litigators “follow a narrower focus” than their New York counterparts, withantitrust and competition work making up the bulk of their workload. The team “focuses on navigating through the complex regulatory processes of M&A transactions and class actions,” a junior explained. “We interface for colleagues in London and aid with foreign filings as well.” As with their corporate colleagues, junior litigators were pleased with their responsibility levels thanks to “leanly staffed teams and the ability to work one on one with partners.” Of course, “there’s always doc review to do – it’s a typical first-year task. But there is a lot of research and you get the first crack at drafting memos and briefs.”

Litigation clients: Walmart, IBM, Facebook. Represented finance company Clearstream in a $1.7 billion lawsuit brought by judgment creditors of Iran.

Pro Bono

“There’s no official cap on pro bono hours,” associates praised, with one litigator “billing around 200 hours in the past year.” Every month the firm circulates a list of pro bono matters that associates can sign up to work on. DP associates felt so supported in fact that some had been able to “put other matters on hold to prioritize pro bono” when needed at crunch time. The firm recently assisted a nonprofit organization with research in the effort to reunite families; some junior litigators also represented pro bono clients undergoing mortgage crises and custody disputes. The firm works with a whole range of groups – Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund and arts organization Wingspan Arts are just a couple of examples. Pro bono work was less common on the corporate side, “but in slower periods you can do more.” We heard of corporate juniors working on asylum applications, and “a team of us are working on a microcredit in Africa for a small business.”

Pro bono hours

  • For all US offices: 39,777
  • Average per US attorney: 45

Culture, Hours & Compensation

Associates we spoke to happily reported a “transparent” culture at the firm. New York litigators pointed to a breakfast meeting they had with managing partner Neil Barr, where “he asked for the associates’ opinions on which areas need improving.” Sources in the smaller Northern California and DC offices also appreciated that Barr “makes it a point to go out to our offices to give that sense of openness.” More broadly, juniors felt that “the people here are cordial and of a really high caliber. Everyone treats each other with respect – letting one person down would be like letting a whole team down!” Others reflected that “it’s a very calm firm,” with one elaborating: “I’ve never heard anyone shout or yell at each other. The calmness is a blessing when things start to pick up!” We bet. The majority of the juniors we spoke to typically spent around ten hours a day in the office. Weekend work might arise too, but “the only times I’ve come into the office on weekends is when I needed a printer.” 

DC associates reckoned they had more forgiving hours overall, explaining that “the majority of the partners here are former high-level government folks, so they’re attuned to a more laissez-faire approach.” But they’re not exempt from the trappings of BigLaw either, as this source explained: “One junior was at a wedding over the weekend, and they were expected to take their laptop and phone with them to be available before and after the wedding.” Just as well – the happy couple probably wouldn’t thank you for patching in to a conference call mid-ceremony.

“No one ever has any issues with hitting targets – everyone is busy all the time!”

Associates were satisfied that the firm has kept up with market salary increases over the years: “We work hard and we’re compensated rightly.” Bonuses are lockstep, and associates said: “It’s incredibly nice of the firm not to have a billing requirement. We never get anxious about our hours and it lessens the competition between us.” Some associates felt there is an “informal expectation of 2,000 hours, but no one ever has any issues with reaching that: everyone is busy all the time!” So busy in fact that when it came to the social side of the firm, DC associates preferred to “go home to our families after the day is done, but we do have monthly happy hours.” It was a similar situation over in New York with the typical festive parties and events to look forward to during the summer program.

Strategy & Future

Looking over the past year, managing partner Neil Barr reports “a strong outcome across almost all of our practice areas,with particular successes in restructuring, acquisition finance, capital markets, M&A, and various facets of our litigation practice.” Barr highlights some of the lateral hires the firm has made in the last year in the white-collar and enforcement spaces. Among these is Robert Cohen, former chief of the SEC’s cyber unit, and Greg Andres, who returned to the firm after serving under Robert Mueller. He also served as the lead trial lawyer in the prosecution of President Trump’s former campaign chair Paul Manafort. Barr emphasizes that these key lateral hires are “against the backdrop of a ten-person internal promotion class this year.”

Career Development

The firm provides extensive training all year round, with a grand total of 350 training sessions on offer annually. First years step into an introductory program called Lawyering 101, which continues every other year with Lawyering 301 and Lawyering 501. There’s also department-specific training, and newbies are assigned both a partner and senior associate mentor to discuss work and professional development.

Our sources agreed that partnership is viewed as “a far-fetched goal” among juniors at the firm. “A lot of people leave around their third or fourth year,” one observed. “It doesn’t seem like a whole lot of us want to be here forever.” So, where do they go? “A bunch of people usually go in-house or to a hedge fund, and there have been quite a few who have lateraled to a more mid-sized firm seeking a better work/life balance.” The firm offers a year-long re-entry program to former Davis Polk lawyers who have taken a significant amount of time out of the legal profession. Via the Revisited program, seven lawyers returned to work at the firm after taking time off.

Diversity & Inclusion 

“Our last summer class was majority ethnic minorities, which has drastically improved if you compare that to a couple of years ago,” one New York junior observed. The number of female associates and partners at the firm falls around the average in BigLaw, but associates felt that Davis Polk makes an effort to “cultivate its affinity groups,” which include the DPWomen, DPW Parents, Asian/South Asian/Middle Eastern (ASAME), Black Affinity Group (BAG), Hispanic/Latinx American (HLA) and LGBTQ+ groups.

Some in the New York office commented that the “stigma of discussing mental health with partners” is still rife in BigLaw. At Davis Polk, a wellness initiative called DPWellness is in place to provide attorneys and staff with programs to aid well-being, including weekly meditation sessions and bi-weekly yoga classes. “These sessions go into the calendar as a regular meeting, and the firm respects that time – I’m personally a big fan of it,” beamed one zen junior. There are also monthly lunch-and-learns, seminars and workshops on health, financial and mindfulness topics.

Get Hired

The first stage: recruitment on and off campus

OCI applicants interviewed: 914

Interviewees outside OCI: 209

Davis Polk attends an average of 20 law school events and off-campus job fairs. How many students the firm's interviewers speak to varies by school – at some it's around 20, while at others they can see more than 150. The firm also accepts write-in applications from those who can't reach a recruitment event.

Partners conduct the majority of interviews – at OCIs they'll often be alumni of the law school. Questions tend to focus on candidates' resumes, and interviewers will drill down on your academic accomplishments and work experience. To excel, make it clear that you're enthusiastic about becoming involved in Davis Polk's practice, that you'll fit in as part of the team, and have something to bring to the table.

Top tips: “The interviewers I had were all very different, but the one piece of advice I'd give regardless is to be prepared because there's plenty of information about the firm out there. Nobody would expect you to have substantive knowledge about a particular practice but do your homework so you can ask those second-layer questions.”

“If you're applying to a smaller office, do your research in advance about the specializations in that location and have a reason why you want to work there in particular.”

“One thing that struck me was how informal the OCI was – since your credentials get you in the door, it’s really all about the conversation during the interview.”



Applicants invited to second stage: 399

Those who make it to the callback stage meet between four and six attorneys for interviews – two of these interviews will typically be more 'laid back' and occur, for example, over a lunch. If there's a practice area you've taken a fancy to, the firm can match you up with relevant interviewers. The content of these interviews isn't super different from that covered in the OCIs – the difference involves drilling down into more detail about what's on your resume and why Davis Polk is the place for you. In this environment, be aware that you are being assessed at all times. That doesn't mean you should panic about becoming the model lawyer; just remember to treat everyone as you'd want to be treated and stay professional throughout your time at the firm.

Top tips: 

I'm looking for someone who I can trust to do the work, who seems intellectual and has a record for challenging themselves, and is personable and easy to talk to.”


Summer program

Offers: 107

Acceptances: 84

Open: 17

Each summer, two junior associates (typically one from corporate and one from litigation) take a break from their work are asked to be the firm’s full-time summer coordinators (devoting their full time and attention to the program for 12 weeks). Their job is to link summer associates with work that will interest them, so make the most of this opportunity to find something that you'd like to sample. It's a very 'choose your own adventure'-style program, as there are no formal practice group rotations or set work assignments, so the Davis Polk world is your oyster.

There are also more than 20 training sessions that give summers an overview of Davis Polk's practice areas and an idea of what business development entails. Some summers jet off to an overseas office for four weeks; it's also possible to split your time between New York and one of the firm's other US offices.

Notable summer events: pizza making classes, Broadway shows, fitness classes, wine tastings, sporting events, advance film screenings and cooking classes.

Top tips: 

“Be open to trying different things; it's quite difficult in law school to really know what you want to do because there's such a range of subjects.”

“I had a friend who really wanted to see a deposition, so they asked the coordinator and they made sure he got to see one. People who ask get the most out of the program.”

And finally...

It's never too early to get started. 1L law firm events are a great opportunity to get to know Davis Polk before the rush of recruitment really kicks off.


Interview with New York managing partner Neil Barr

Chambers Associate: How would you describe the Davis Polk’s current market position?

Neil Barr: We are very pleased with our position right now. In the past year, we have had strong outcomes across almost all of our practice areas, with particular successes in restructuring, acquisition finance, capital markets, M&A, and various facets of our litigation practice. We are also seeing a number of “bet the company” mandates arising from the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic.

CA: Are there any broader trends (whether political, economic, technological, sector-specific) that are currently shaping the volume or type of work conducted in the US practices?

NB: The COVID-19 pandemic is having a significant impact on our clients’ businesses and, as a result, their legal needs. The business environment has changed dramatically in a very short period of time and we are helping our clients work through the associated economic dislocation. This has translated into assignments coming out of the CARES Act, a significant ramp up in our restructuring work and new mandates in capital markets and finance.

CA: In terms of the tech sphere, are there any legal technological advancements in place at Davis Polk?

NB: We are becoming increasingly engaged with technology to provide a more efficient working environment for our colleagues and therefore, more cost effective delivery of legal services to our clients. And recent work from home policies have refined our perspective on many of these technologies. There is no uniform, killer app for legal services, but where we can find efficiency for our stakeholders, we are trying to capture it.

CA: Can you tell us about any developments at the firm over the past year that you would like our readers to know about?

NB: We’ve had a few laterals join us this year and we’ve had former partners return to the firm. We are very proud to have had Greg Andres rejoin us. Greg was a preeminent white collar practitioner before he left us to join Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team investigating Russian government efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election, and successfully convicted Paul Manafort of crimes which I’m sure people have read about. We have also announced the hiring of Robert Cohen from the SEC. Rob is an A+ enforcement lawyer who also brings a lot of experience from the cyber and crypto space. This is against the backdrop of a ten-person internal promotion class this year, which reflects diversity in any number of respects; 50% of our class was women and 60% was diverse in some way. Geographically, we promoted in four different offices.

CA: What’s your long-term vision for Davis Polk? What do you hope the firm will look like in five years’ time?

NB: We are going to continue to play to our strengths as an elite law firm that provides clients with legal services on their most significant matters and the world’s most important financial efforts. That will be our basic strategy and we will grow in the context of that strategy. I don’t think you will see us go elsewhere in terms of office composition or see any radical changes in our shape, size or practice portfolio.

CA: What's been the most valuable lesson you've learned in your career?

NB: To be successful in this business, as a lawyer or a leader, one needs to be empathetic. One needs to internalize the issues of your clients and colleagues and make them your own.

CA: Looking back at your career and the knowledge you've gained, what advice would you give to students who are about to enter the legal industry?

NB: While grades and intellect are strong foundations for success, what really differentiates a good technician from a great lawyer is having the confidence to give your client practical and strategic advice on difficult issues, not just providing intellectual answers to their questions. Developing the business acumen to understand your clients’ business and how your legal advice impacts their business, in all its complexities, is what differentiates a good law student and a great lawyer.


Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP

450 Lexington Avenue,
New York,
NY 10017
Website www.davispolk.com

  • Head Office: New York, NY
  • Number of domestic offices: 3
  • Number of international offices: 7
  • Lawyers (US): 806
  • Contacts 
  • Main recruitment contact: Cristobal V Modesto (cristobal.modesto@davispolk.com)
  • Hiring Partners: Maurice Blanco and Dana Seshens
  • Recruitment details 
  • Clerking policy: Yes
  • Summers joining/anticipated 2020: 133(1Ls: 19, 2Ls: 11)
  • Summers joining/anticipated 2020 split by office: New York = 107 (1Ls - 13, 2Ls - 94) NorCal = 14 (1Ls - 3, 2Ls - 11) DC = 8 (1Ls - 2, 2Ls - 6)
  • Summer salary 2020: 1Ls: $3,700/week 2Ls: $3,700/week
  • Split summers offered? Yes
  • Can summers spend time in an overseas office? Yes

Main areas of work
Capital markets, mergers and acquisitions, finance, litigation (including antitrust, bankruptcy, general commercial, IP, securities, enforcement, and white collar and government investigations), tax, private equity, investment management, restructuring, corporate governance, intellectual property and technology, financial regulation, derivatives, fintech, environmental, executive compensation, real estate, and trusts and estates.

Firm profile
Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP is an elite global law firm with world-class practices across the board. Industry-leading companies and global financial institutions know they can rely on Davis Polk for their most challenging legal and business matters. The firm’s topflight capabilities are grounded in a distinguished history of more than 165 years, and its global, forward-looking focus is supported by 10 offices strategically located in the world’s key financial centers and political capitals. Approximately 1,000 lawyers collaborate seamlessly across practice groups and geographies to provide clients with exceptional service, sophisticated advice and creative, practical solutions.

Summer associate profile:
We seek to hire applicants from a variety of backgrounds with outstanding academic and non-academic achievements, leadership skills and creativity, and with a demonstrated willingness to take initiative. We strive to find exceptional lawyers who share our commitment to excellence.

Summer program components: Our summer program is designed to allow students the opportunity to experience work as a junior associate. Summer associates are encouraged to work on matters in any practice area of interest. There are no required rotations. Work assignments are made through two associates who take leave from their regular practices to assist each summer associate in shaping their summer work experience. In addition to working with our attorneys on the firm’s current billable and pro bono matters, summer associates have the opportunity to attend practice area overviews and participate in multi-day interactive training sessions and workshops. The program also includes a wide range of cultural, social and mentoring activities to assist summer associates in getting to know their peers and our attorneys.

Social Media:
Recruitment website: careers.davispolk.com
LinkedIn: davis-polk-&-wardwell-llp

This Firm's Rankings in
USA Guide, 2020

Ranked Departments

    • Capital Markets: Debt & Equity (Band 1)
    • Corporate/M&A (Band 4)
    • Antitrust (Band 5)
    • Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations (Band 4)
    • Antitrust (Band 1)
    • Bankruptcy/Restructuring (Band 1)
    • Corporate/M&A: The Elite (Band 1)
    • Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation (Band 1)
    • Environment: Mainly Transactional (Band 1)
    • Litigation: General Commercial: The Elite (Band 2)
    • Litigation: Securities (Band 1)
    • Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations (Band 2)
    • Media & Entertainment: Corporate (Band 3)
    • Real Estate: Mainly Dirt (Band 4)
    • Tax (Band 1)
    • Antitrust (Band 2)
    • Banking & Finance (Band 1)
    • Bankruptcy/Restructuring (Band 1)
    • Capital Markets: Derivatives (Band 1)
    • Capital Markets: Equity: Issuer Counsel (Band 2)
    • Capital Markets: Equity: Manager Counsel (Band 1)
    • Capital Markets: High-Yield Products (Band 2)
    • Capital Markets: Investment Grade Debt: Issuer Counsel (Band 1)
    • Capital Markets: Investment Grade Debt: Manager Counsel (Band 1)
    • Corporate Crime & Investigations (Band 2)
    • Corporate/M&A: The Elite (Band 1)
    • Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation (Band 2)
    • FCPA (Band 3)
    • Financial Services Regulation: Banking (Compliance) (Band 1)
    • Financial Services Regulation: Banking (Enforcement & Investigations) (Band 3)
    • Financial Services Regulation: Broker Dealer (Compliance & Enforcement) (Band 2)
    • Financial Services Regulation: Financial Institutions M&A (Band 2)
    • International Trade: CFIUS Experts (Band 3)
    • International Trade: Export Controls & Economic Sanctions (Band 3)
    • Investment Funds: Hedge Funds (Band 3)
    • Investment Funds: Registered Funds (Band 4)
    • Private Equity: Buyouts: Mid-Market (Band 2)
    • Securities: Litigation (Band 1)
    • Securities: Regulation (Band 2)
    • Tax: Corporate & Finance (Band 1)

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The work at Davis Polk

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Women at Davis Polk

Diversity and inclusion at Davis Polk