Debevoise & Plimpton LLP - The Inside View

Looking for a firm “going above and beyond” for its associates? Well, it turns out that’s just one of the joys of Debevoise.

“What is it they say? Shoot for the moon – even if you miss, you’ll land amongst the stars.” Contrary to what you might think, we’re not talking about space law. For the associates we spoke to, Big Apple firm Debevoise was the dream destination, and not without good reason. As one associate put it: “I knew that I’d be learning from the best of the best in the field.” Too far up to be relatable? Think again. The people and community at Debevoise are enough to leave you starry-eyed: “Debevoise really prides itself in going above and beyond in caring for its associates,” one told us, and “the reputation they have is for being a nice BigLaw firm.”

Of course, Debevoise’s reputation doesn’t stop at ‘nice’. The firm boasts a bucketful of top-ranked Chambers USA practices, from corporate crime & investigations and FCPA, to intellectual property (trademark, copyright & trade secrets), insurance, international arbitration, private equity fund formation, and securities regulation. There’s also top-tier media & entertainment and investigations practices (among others) in New York to add to the mix. At Debevoise – fondly dubbed ‘Deb’ by its lawyers – there’s something for everybody and plenty to go around, with a lockstep bonus structure that is a “big driver of the culture.” For associates, however, it’s the firm’s investment in them that makes the biggest difference: “People at Debevoise were so invested in whether or not I chose the firm, even after they had offered the job to me,” one added.

Strategy & Future



As one associate stated, “everyone should be happy with our place in the market.” The last year at Debevoise has seen several significant lateral hires and promotions to bolster practice area expansion. At the beginning of 2024, the firm announced that Clare Swirski and Drew Dutton would co-head the UK/European insurance transactional and regulatory practice in London. Back in the US, Debevoise welcomed Rick Sofield, a seasoned attorney with over 30 years of experience in the private sector, to its DC office as co-head of the national security practice. Meanwhile, in its hometown, litigation partners Helen Cantwell and David O’Neil were appointed co-chairs of the white collar & regulatory defense group. Attracting big talent isn’t a small feat, so we’ll chalk this up to Debevoise “having a good reputation – and it works!” 

The Work



Practice area and specialty group preferences are submitted via survey before associates start working at Debevoise. As one associate put it: “It’s very much an 'ask and you shall receive' system.” Like many other BigLaw firms, litigation associates start as generalists and become specialists a few years into their time at the firm. Corporate associates pass through a formal rotational system at the end of the calendar year to experience at least two different practice areas; before choosing between them at the end of their second year, depending on how many rotations they choose to do. “This is so beneficial because as a law student, you don’t know what the work in the practice group entails,” one corporate associate explained, adding: “You make a decision based on word of mouth or a class you took back in law school. It’s nice to spend a full year in a practice group to understand the people, the work you do, and the work-life balance that comes with it.”

“There is absolutely no incentive to be fighting with someone in my own class for an assignment – no elbowing anyone out of the way or competing with someone else.”

In terms of work allocation, juniors told us that they get their work through centralized staffing, especially in their first few years. This approach works on the basis that the staffing coordinator or staffing partner will “check who is the least busy, have a look at their practice area interests, and assign work that way.” The associates we spoke to were quick to highlight the benefits too: “There is absolutely no incentive to be fighting with someone in my own class for an assignment – no elbowing anyone out of the way or competing with someone else.” There are also projects that come to associates outside of this, allowing for an element of organic work allocation. “A little bit of a blend is really helpful,” we were told. “You can work on different matters and types of activities that help you get more insight into deals. It’s also helpful because there is value in building relationships within the firm, and it’s nice to be able to get staffing through that.”

“…the matters are always interesting and complex… if they were simple, they’d go somewhere else.”

The litigation department specializes in commercial litigation, international dispute resolution, white-collar litigation and IP. Within the white-collar group, there are subgroups that cover work on matters regarding privacy, cybersecurity and artificial intelligence. In the smaller DC office, where most litigation associates work on white-collar, the work is more SEC-focused. “The majority of investigations have an SEC component,” an associate told us, “but we’ve also been working on cases in data security relating to investigations following a data breach. We come in to counsel companies through the crisis management and notification phases.” The white-collar group also works on congressional investigations, “representing individuals and companies subject to congressional subpoenas,” as well as more criminal matters for the Department of Justice or the US Attorney’s Office. Here, the tasks for junior associates involve getting up to speed with the facts of the case, preparing for meetings and witness interviews. Essentially, “the role of a junior associate is to be the master of the facts, tracking down any potential issues or questions that come up and distilling that for the partners or senior attorneys.”

In IP, the work mostly concerns trade secret litigation, as well as trademark and copyright matters for high-profile clients - from luxury brands to artist groups and tech companies. “Everyone who comes to Debevoise for help has established themselves as successful in something they do,” an associate pointed out. “The matters are always interesting and complex… if they were simple, they’d go somewhere else.” A lot of this work ties in with cybersecurity and white-collar litigation, working on incident reports when companies have been the target of ransomware attacks or aiding government investigations into crypto companies. One junior affirmed that this “is unlike any other kind of lawyering… It’s a situation where you’re helping a company in a time of crisis and, even though that’s intense, it’s very rewarding work.” Some of this work overlaps with artificial intelligence matters too, with Debevoise lawyers helping tech companies “think about how they can set themselves up to be in a good position to be compliant with the world that exists today and the changes that will be in our future.” Debevoise is investing heavily in the AI component of its cyberpractice, so be sure to watch this space for any further developments.

Litigation clients: American Express, PayPal, Rolls Royce, Twitter. Retained by NFL to conduct various independent investigations into allegations of workplace misconduct and tampering.

The corporate group at Debevoise includes specialist areas such as private equity, M&A, banking and tax. Typical clientele are often household names, anything from private equity firms and financial institutions to international pharmaceutical companies and famous beauty brands. “That’s what’s really interesting and unique about M&A – you can be doing something that you actually know a lot about because it’s with a client that you’ve interacted with outside of a legal context,” one M&A junior enthused. What’s more, juniors are given a broad range of tasks to work on from the moment they join the firm. “I came into M&A hearing the buzzword ‘diligence’,” one source admitted. “But I was pleasantly surprised at the breadth of work I get to do.” This includes document review, drafting amendments and ancillary documents, and managing the deal process by ensuring that deadlines are being met and documents are submitted in a timely manner. “You can really get your hands dirty by drafting smaller agreements… Debevoise is really good at giving you the opportunity as a first- or second-year to take the first stab at this,” one source added. “The firm makes a conscious effort to give you the type of work that’s going to help you succeed in your career.”

Corporate clients: JP Morgan, Warner Bros, Spirit Airlines. Advised Albertsons Companies on key aspects of its sale to Kroger in a deal worth $24.6 billion.

Culture, Hours & Compensation



Billable hours: no requirement

A word of warning: “you can get a lot busier than you would like,” one associate confirmed. Debevoise associates are generally billing around 45-50 hours a week, with some variation between practice groups. Employees are expected in the office at least three times a week, including an anchor day depending on practice group, with people coming and going at various times. All interviewees said that this matched or exceeded their expectations going in to a BigLaw firm: “I expected the hours to be what they are, but staffing does help manage your workload – they’ll ask what you want to do. So, when I’ve been busy, it’s because I’ve found the work interesting, not because I was forced to be.”

“…it’s the culture that makes Debevoise, Debevoise.”

The lockstep compensation structure and absence of a billable hour requirement fuels the “cordial and supportive” culture in the offices, from New York to DC: “That trickle-down effect, you really see it from the senior leadership down to the associates. It’s so collaborative.” We heard that it’s a little more “intimate” and “family-oriented” in the DC office, where “everybody knows where everyone went to college, where you’ve lived, what your family’s like… when you’re in the office, there are 20 people there and we’re all just hanging out. We’ll all go get lunch together!” We were told that the firm hosts “a good cadence of events,” happening at least once a month. From an event in Central Park Zoo to dinner at Peak in Hudson Yard, it’s no wonder one associate told us that “it’s the culture that makes Debevoise, Debevoise.”

Diversity, Equity & Inclusion



Juniors praised the firm’s DEI initiatives, highlighting the firm’s recruitment efforts and affinity groups. Associates thought the firm “does a lot for DEI recruitment,” with one source noting that there were “diverse interviewees for diverse candidates who answered all my questions about diversity honestly and transparently.” Another interviewee conveyed that “my class, as far as women go, was basically equal – if not, there were probably more women.” This associate also mentioned that they “work with a lot of predominantly male teams, but I’ve never felt out of place. Everyone’s made me feel absolutely like an equal.”

Affinity groups, including the Women’s Resource Group, LGBTQ+ Lawyers Group, Latin@ and Asian networks, are given a “substantial budget that they’re free to use as they like.” The Women’s Resource Group has gone out for small group dinners, coffee and pastries, while the LGBTQ+ group went to a wine store and had a wine party. “We’re funded to get together,” one associate explained. “I have friends I’ve made from other departments and practice groups because the firm supports them so well.”

Career Development



Our interviewees could all agree on one thing: “Debevoise is going to help you get to where you want to be.” There are “training opportunities at every point of your career," and associates highlighted the firm’s Business Education Program, a formal commercial awareness training program mandatory for first-years that one interviewee described as a “mini MBA.” Associates across the board appreciated this training because it acknowledged many associates’ lack of commercial experience as a new lawyer. “A lot of us didn’t take any time between undergrad and law school,” one junior explained. “So many people find themselves in BigLaw with not a lot of background.” Expressing their gratitude for Debevoise’s efforts to train associates, one source divulged: “I’m sure I have other friends at other firms at the same level as me who have been in BigLaw as long as me, who’ve never had that training, and may never have that training.” There are also informal training opportunities available, as every first-year gets an associate and partner mentor to go to for any career development advice (and to go for dinner or coffee with on the firm’s dime!).

Good news! We were told that the partner track is very much attainable at Debevoise. The firm doesn’t hire many laterals – “the vast majority of partners here are ‘lifers’, so it’s nice to know I’m in the bucket of people that could be chosen from.” However, if you’re looking towards other career paths, Debevoise is here to support you in that too. “They appreciate that not everyone will be a partner at the firm,” an associate said, “but they really invest in training you to be a good lawyer. It’s in the firm’s best interest to put you on cases where you’re going to thrive or in a practice area that you might want to pivot to.” Another told us that “for most people, this is not a lifelong career – for many, it’s a stepping stone. Debevoise recognizes that and wants to be the best stepping stone possible.” There is also an in-house counselor for attorneys to discuss their future at the firm, so there’s no shortage of resources for associates to access if they’re looking for some career development support.

Pro Bono



As one associate highlighted: “There isn’t a month that goes by where I don’t do something related to pro bono.” Associates noted the firm’s unwavering commitment to it, with a wide range of cases to work on that allow juniors to shoulder more responsibilities and “take on more advanced roles than in billable work.” Encouragement largely comes from the fact that, without a billable requirement, associates don't have a cap on pro bono.

“…there’s not a lawyer in the firm who hasn’t gotten involved in the Holloway Project.”

Debevoise focuses on several pro bono matters – housing, immigration, Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts - but the firm’s involvement in the Holloway Project is what really stood out to associates. The Holloway Project is a “unique, firm-wide push by a partner to wholesale take on and ameliorate injustice in the US justice system… we’re trying to organize the release of those who received draconian sentences for minor offences.” This source also told us that the Holloway Project is special because “it feels like a real win, even more so than for paying clients.” This sentiment is shared across pro bono matters, as one interviewee who’d worked on a housing case confirmed: “When I tell you how grateful people are… I had one client who said to me ‘because of you, now my apartment feels like a home.’ It’s really rewarding work.”

Pro bono hours

  • For all US offices: 99,260
  • Average per US attorney: 122.4

Get Hired



The first stage: recruitment on and off campus

OCI applicants interviewed: undisclosed

Interviewees outside OCI: undisclosed

Debevoise & Plimpton conducts OCIs at over 25 law schools and resume collections at others. The firm is also open to school early programs and write-in applications. OCIs are usually conducted by partners and alumni of the particular school, although there are exceptions.

At this point, the firm is looking for “students who understand this business and have a strong work ethic.” In particular, hiring partner Nicole Levin Mesard says the firm looks for “people who are great problem solvers—our clients come to us with their toughest matters. In order to excel here you have to want to tackle those tough matters and get your hands dirty.”

Top tips for this stage:

“Students should do their homework on us—things like knowing how to say the name of the firm, knowing the practice areas the firm has, the offices, and knowing details on the firm.” –  chief legal recruiting officer Sandra Herbst

Callbacks

Applicants invited to second stage interview: undisclosed

Callbacks are usually either a morning or afternoon session in person and remote callbacks are offered. The candidate will do three interviews, typically with partners or counsel. At this stage, the questions will be “more in-depth.” Herbst explains, “we want to see if they can demonstrate the ability to be a team player, if they’ll be able to work on the toughest matters, and whether they have the stamina to get through it. Some candidates come in and dazzle, but then towards the end of the interview process they’re tired and it shows. Being a lawyer at a big law firm is a marathon, not a sprint.” The morning sessions are followed by lunch, while the afternoon sessions are followed by coffeethese are with more junior members of the firm to give candidates “different perspectives on the firm.”

Summer program

Offers: undisclosed

Acceptances: undisclosed

During Debevoise’s summer program, summers get the chance to work on real matters with associates, counsel and partners. “We want them to meet our different lawyers, get to know them, and let the lawyers get to know the summers.” There are no formal rotations, and summers can work in one or as many areas as they like. Plus, summers also have the opportunity to work on at least one pro bono assignment. Summers also get feedback at mid-summer and end-of-summer reviews.

Top tips for this stage:

“Take it seriously. We want to see that they are committed to being here and are going to work hard. We want summer associates to really understand what it means to be a Debevoise lawyer.” – hiring partner Nicole Levin Mesard.

 

Debevoise & Plimpton LLP

66 Hudson Boulevard,
New York,
10001
Website www.debevoise.com

Main areas of work
Corporate includes mergers and acquisitions, private equity, funds/investment management, insurance, banking, leveraged finance, business restructuring and workouts, asset management, capital markets, corporate governance, structured and project finance, aviation finance, healthcare and life sciences, intellectual property, technology, media & telecommunications, real estate, energy and environmental law. Litigation includes white collar and regulatory defense, international dispute resolution, intellectual property, general commercial litigation, data strategy and security, insurance, securities, antitrust, employment, bankruptcy and products liability. Tax includes domestic and global tax counsel and employee benefits.

Firm profile
Debevoise & Plimpton LLP is a premier law firm with market-leading practices and a global perspective. Approximately 900 lawyers work in nine offices across three continents, serving clients around the world. Clients look to the firm to bring a distinctively high degree of quality, intensity and creativity to resolve legal challenges effectively and cost efficiently. Deep partner commitment, industry expertise and a strategic approach enable the firm to bring clear commercial judgment to every matter. The firm draws on the strength of its culture and structure to deliver superior work to every client through true collaboration.

Recruitment
Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2024:

Law Schools attending for OCIs in 20243: Brooklyn Law, Cardozo Law, Columbia University, Cornell University, Duke University, Fordham University, Georgetown University, George Washington University, Harvard University, Howard University, New York Law, New York University, Rutgers University, St. John’s University, Stanford University, Tulane University, University of California – Berkeley, University of California - Los Angeles, University of California Law - San Francisco, University of Chicago, University of Michigan, University of Pennsylvania, University of Virginia, Yale University.

Recruitment outside OCIs:
We conduct resume collections at many schools where we cannot offer on-campus interviews.

Summer associate profile:
Debevoise searches for dynamic, analytically strong and Intellectually curious individuals with an interest in and enthusiasm for challenging deals and legal matters. In addition, the firm is interested in individuals from an array of different backgrounds, in line with our focus on building a diverse community of lawyers.

Summer pro gram components:
Debevoise’s summer program is structured to provide participants with the flexibility to explore as many practice areas as they wish. In order to accommodate the individual’s evolving interests, the firm has chosen not to impose an assignment system that “rotates” participants through different areas of the firm. There are opportunities throughout the summer for formal evaluations, while informal feedback is given on a continuous basis. Social events are held for summer associates, which provide them with the chance to connect with other lawyers, of all levels, at the firm.

Social media
Recruitment website: debevoise.com/careers
LinkedIn: linkedin.com/company/debevoise/
Twitter: @Debevoise

This Firm's Rankings in
USA Guide, 2023

Ranked Departments

    • Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations (Band 5)
    • Antitrust (Band 5)
    • Banking & Finance (Band 2)
    • Bankruptcy/Restructuring: The Elite (Band 4)
    • Corporate/M&A: The Elite (Band 2)
    • Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation (Band 1)
    • Environment: Mainly Transactional (Band 2)
    • Healthcare (Band 5)
    • Insurance: Dispute Resolution: Insurer (Band 4)
    • Insurance: Transactional & Regulatory (Band 1)
    • Intellectual Property: Trademark, Copyright & Trade Secrets (Band 1)
    • Litigation: General Commercial: The Elite (Band 2)
    • Litigation: Securities (Band 3)
    • Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations: The Elite (Band 1)
    • Media & Entertainment: Corporate (Band 1)
    • Private Equity: Buyouts (Band 2)
    • Real Estate: Mainly Corporate & Finance (Band 3)
    • Real Estate: Mainly Dirt (Band 5)
    • Tax (Band 2)
    • Advertising: Litigation (Band 3)
    • Banking & Finance (Band 2)
    • Capital Markets: Equity: Issuer Counsel (Band 3)
    • Capital Markets: High-Yield Debt (Band 4)
    • Corporate Crime & Investigations: The Elite (Band 1)
    • Corporate/M&A: The Elite (Band 2)
    • Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation (Band 2)
    • Environment: Mainly Transactional (Band 3)
    • FCPA (Band 1)
    • Financial Services Regulation: Banking (Compliance) (Band 2)
    • Financial Services Regulation: Banking (Enforcement & Investigations) (Band 3)
    • Financial Services Regulation: Financial Institutions M&A (Band 3)
    • Insurance: Transactional & Regulatory (Band 1)
    • Intellectual Property: Trademark, Copyright & Trade Secrets (Band 1)
    • International Arbitration: The Elite (Band 1)
    • International Trade: Export Controls & Economic Sanctions: Highly Regarded (Band 2)
    • Investment Funds: Regulatory & Compliance (Band 3)
    • Privacy & Data Security: The Elite (Band 3)
    • Private Equity: Buyouts: High-end Capability (Band 2)
    • Private Equity: Fund Formation (Band 1)
    • Real Estate (Band 5)
    • Securities: Litigation (Band 4)
    • Securities: Regulation: Enforcement (Band 1)
    • Tax: Corporate & Finance (Band 2)
    • Transportation: Aviation: Finance (Band 2)