Debevoise & Plimpton LLP - The Inside View

“Phenomenal growth” has been the defining story of this elite New York outfit the past two years. 

It’s no secret that that the legal market is in something of a boom at the moment. Profits per equity partner are up, many firms are reporting record revenue hikes, and incoming associates are now paid more than ever. However, even by the standards of the market, Debevoise has had a stellar past two years. In 2020, it recorded a nearly 30% increase in net income growth plus a gross revenue increase of more than 15%, and last year reported a number double digit increase to bring the firm's total revenue to $1.3 billion. PEP also surpassed $5 million for the first time in Debevoise's history.

"We've recently opened up a San Francisco office and expanded our cybersecurity practice at a rapid pace."

The firm’s performance should come as no surprise given its abundance of top Chambers USA rankings.Debevoiseis recognized as cream of the crop for (deep breath): corporate crime and investigations; insurance; IP; international arbitration; litigation; white-collar crime and government investigations; private equity; fund formation; securities regulation; and the corporate side of media and entertainment. Its prestigious reputation was a great draw for many of our interviewees. As one recalled: “I interviewed with dozens of firms, but Debevoise had the most consistency across its practice groups.” Another popular reason was the culture. The firm has long cultivated an image as one of the ‘nice guys’ of BigLaw, and our interviewees were pleased to confirm this sentiment continued to ring true: “I asked people from every level about how Debevoise treats its employees, and up and down the chain, the message was that everyone felt supported by the firm, including support staff.”

Strategy & Future

Sources clearly took pride in “the firm’sphenomenal growth in recent years,” with one insider making clear that “it doesn't appear to be slowing down anytime soon.” Another junior highlighted: “We've recently opened up a San Francisco office and expanded our cybersecurity practice at a rapid pace. The firm's revenues have experienced double-digit growth, and the New York office will soon be relocating to an iconic new building.”

This is a firm that also has a decent track record when it comes to ESG, having created a dedicated ESG hub in spring 2021 and appointed its first ever ESG adviser months later. 

The Work

More than 95% of Debevoise’s associates are based in New York, with a handful opting to join the DC base. Associates rank the type of law they want to practice when they first arrive at the firm. Corporate juniors spend their first two years in a rotation program which enables them to try two different subgroups, such as banking and M&A. Litigators similarly tend to start out as generalists before deciding on a more specific area toward the end of their second year: “We pick majors and minors at the beginning of third year, like cybersecurity and IP,” one source clarified.

During these initial two years, a central staffing coordinator and a staffing partner assign work to juniors, specifically in corporate, litigation, and tax: “They take into account our interests, workload and the type of skills we need.” For example, if an associate has been stuck doing doc review for a couple of months, we were told that they’ll be put on something more substantive next to help their writing skills.

"We step in any time Biden comes out with new regulations relating to product disclosure or climate change, for example.”

Debevoise’s bankinggroup has a strong regulatory focus, with sanctions work, AML (anti-money laundering) work, and charter applications often arising. “Banks often want to know how a new regulation will affect their business model, so I do a lot of advisory work,” one junior noted.Sources had also noticed an uptick in state-level licensing queries concerning cryptocurrency products: “We step in any time Biden comes out with new regulations relating to product disclosure or climate change, for example.” Associates sharpen their writing skills by writing memos, while client interaction comes in the form of sharing expertise during client meetings: “Partners are very willing to let associates speak up if we have the knowledge.”As the firm’s largest subgroup, transactional associates will also almost definitely spend some time in the firm’s prestigious M&A team. where there’s certainly no shortage of mega deals for associates to get stuck into. In fact, last year was the strongest on record: the average deal size valued over $31 billion, and the value of the total transactions completed was over $250 billion.

Corporate clients: Blackstone, Morgan Stanley Investment Management, Prudential Financial. Advised Discovery on the $42 billion financing aspects of its acquisition of WarnerMedia from AT&T. 

General commercial, white-collar, and IP cases are among those up for grabs in Debevoise’s expansive litigation group. The white-collar team alone is made up of nearly 300 lawyers who tackle everything from bribery and embezzlement cases to trade sanctions and tax avoidance. “On very large investigations, there can be 20-plus people on the case, where my role is primarily taking charge of doc review and doing witness interview prep,” one associate explained. “That compares with smaller matters where it might just be two associates and a partner handling a regulatory component of a case. There I play a more direct role writing the report.” IP was identified as a popular group and one source was keen to dispel one particular misconception: “Some people think IP isn’t as exciting as commercial litigation because the same sort of issues come up again and again. However, we get to work with some fascinating clients and the niche nature of the practice means we get to hone our expertise early on.” 

Litigation clients: American Express, Rolls-Royce, Royal Dutch Shell, Wells Fargo. Represented Toyota in a resolution with the Department of Justice and Environmental Protection Agency regarding its emissions reporting practices.

Data strategy and security work is divided into incident response and advisory matters. The latter sees associates assess clients’ level of cyber protection: “We take them though mock data breaches called tabletops, then help them draft new policy,” one source explained.Incident responses are staffed on rotation, so juniors spend a week at a time on call to help with breaches as and when they come in: “We do an initial analysis and if personal data is involved it can quickly develop into a very big workstream!”

Data strategy and security clients: American Express, GoDaddy, Warner Music.Co-counsel tosoftware company SolarWinds in a high-profile Russian cyberattack against the company.

Culture, Hours & Compensation

Billable hours: no requirement

Debevoise does not have a billing target in order to get a bonus. According to our survey, the average hours worked by associates in a given week aligned perfectly with the market average. However, our respondents scored the firm much more highly for issuing a reasonable workload and encouraging a decent work-life balance: “The firm is devoted to respecting personal commitments. We’re given ample flexibility to complete tasks past 5.30pm so we can plan work around our evening commitments,” one insider reflected. On the odd occasion that associates are swamped, we were told that colleagues will jump in and help out. “The staffing coordinator will also make sure you don’t get any new work for the next week or so.”

Moreover, 100% of our survey respondents felt bonus allocation was fair and transparent.  That wasn’t too surprising to hear once we learned that the firm doled out not one, but two associate bonuses this year. The firm matched Cravath’s year-end bonus and first and second-year associates banked an additional $4,000 to $6,000 (depending on class year). The firm simply requires its attorneys to be in 'good standing' to be bonus-eligible.

"Partners took people out for lunch and we had regular drinks in the evening.”

While ‘friendly’ and ‘collegiate’ are most lawyers’ go-to words for describing firm culture, ‘kind’ was the word that came up most frequently in our research on Debevoise. That said, those who joined the firm remotely thought the process could have been more streamlined. As one source disclosed: “They didn’t quite know how to make sure everyone felt welcome, so I was pretty lost for the first few months.” However, they were quick to add that “things improved when people started going back into the office; partners took people out for lunch and we had regular drinks in the evening.” At the time of research, attorneys were expected to work in the office a minimum of three days a week. One insider highlighted that “we all got a tech stipend so we could make a home office, and they were very supportive of attorneys with children at home.”

Diversity, Equity & Inclusion

Our survey results revealed many positive signals around Debevoise’s approach to D&I and the vast majority of respondents strongly felt their intake was diverse, that the firm had a positive attitude toward mental health, and that affinity groups were well developed. For example, the Asian affinity group negotiated free Uber rides to and from the office due to the rise in the number of anti-Asian hate crimes during the pandemic. The group is led by junior associates who noted that “the firm has committed to giving us resources. We recently brought Senator Hirono in to speak to the group and the firm bought her book for all of us to read.” Still, sources were clear that the retention and promotion of diverse lawyers remained an area for improvement, pointing to a typical BigLaw, bottom-heavy model of representation.

The firm hired a new director of global diversity and inclusion, Leslie Richards-Yellen, in summer 2020: “Integrating her has been a bit bumpy but the firm is definitely willing to listen and support where it can,” one source reflected. Interviewees were also pleased to report on a “roll-out of extra services in our benefit package recently, which means we now have access to on-call mental health counseling.” One added: “There are lots of people here I can vent to, and I’ve never had a problem taking leave.” Incidentally, more than half of associates didn’t think their work negatively affected their mental health, meaning mental wellbeing at Debevoise is markedly better than many other firms in our guide. 

Career Development

To help give guidance, incoming associates are assigned a mid-level or senior associate mentor, plus a partner mentor upon joining the firm. Feedback suggests that the effectiveness of this system varied by practice group. For example, banking associates told us: “There’s no requirement for mentors to check in with us and the firm doesn’t keep track of it so it’s not overly helpful.” Over in litigation, however, associates rotate through partner mentors every three years “to get exposed to different folks in the firm. It works really well.” There’s also a specific group made up of partners and advisees: “They set aside advising weeks twice a year where we have compulsory meetings.”

Informally, associates had found plenty of people to grab coffee with: “It’s easy to go and hang out together and call it advising!” Pro bono also provides an opportunity for skills development: “We have a pro bono coordinator who will find you the specific experiences you want, like speaking in court.” It’s worth noting that every first-year will do a pro bono project with a more senior associate.

Pro Bono  

On that note, our stats show that pro bono is something Debevoise excels at, with attorneys clocking up more hours on average than 80% of the firms we cover. Our respondents also scored the firm significantly higher than the market average for the metrics ‘you have autonomy over the volume of pro bono work you take on’ and ‘the pro bono work is meaningful and engaging.’  

“I got a client released from prison!” 

There’s no cap on the number of pro bono hours that count toward billable hours. There's also no formal requirement for associates to do a certain amount of pro bono, but we heard that all lawyers at Debevoise are nonetheless encouraged to do it. Associates and counsel who do 50 hours of pro bono work during the year can help select six charitable organizations to receive donations from the firm. We spoke to juniors who had taken part in long-running immigration class actions, as well as handling internal investigations related to harassment claims for nonprofits. “The coordinator often sends us opportunities and we can jump in whenever we’re available,” one source explained.Post-conviction criminal work was popular with juniors: “I got a client released from prison!” The firm also has a relationship with the New York City Bar Association, where associates had helped draft reports on their diversity initiatives.  

Pro bono hours 

  • For all US attorneys: 71,074 
  • Average per US attorney: 103 

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 write-in applications. OCIs are usually conducted by partners and alumni of the particular school, although there are exceptions. There are also hospitality suites at most schools, hosted by more junior attorneys. 

At this point, the firm is looking for “students who understand this business and have a strong work ethic.” In particular, director of legal recruiting Sandra Herbst 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.” – hiring partner Nicole Levin Mesard. 


Applicants invited to second stage interview: undisclosed 

Callbacks are usually either a morning or afternoon session. 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 coffee – these 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

919 Third Avenue,
New York,
NY 10022

  • Head Office: New York, NY
  • Number of domestic offices: 3
  • Number of international offices: 6
  • Worldwide revenue: About $1.33 billion
  • Partners (US): 109
  • Associates (US): 408
  • Contacts 
  • Main recruitment contact: Sandra Herbst
  • Hiring partner: Nicole Mesard
  • Diversity officer: Leslie Richards- Yellen 
  • Recruitment details 
  • Entry-level associates starting in 2022: 103
  • Clerking policy: Yes
  • Summers joining/anticipated 2022: 135
  • Summers joining/anticipated 2022 split by office: NY: 132, DC: 3
  • Summer salary 2022: 2Ls: $4,150/week
  • Split summers offered? Yes
  • Can summers spend time in an overseas office? Yes

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, a global perspective and strong New York roots. Clients look to the firm to bring a distinctively high degree of quality, intensity and creativity to resolve legal challenges selectively and cost efficiently. Deep partner commitment, industry experience and a strategic approach enable the firm to bring clear commercial judgment to every matter. Debevoise draws on the strength of its culture and structure to deliver the best of the firm to every client through true collaboration.

Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2022:

Brooklyn Law, Cardozo Law, Columbia University, Cornell University, Duke University, Fordham University, Georgetown University, Harvard University, Howard University, New York Law, New York University, Rutgers University, St. John’s University, Stanford University, Tulane University, UCLA, University of Chicago, University of Michigan, University of Pennsylvania, University of Texas, 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 professionally 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 program components:
Debevoise’s summer program is structured to provide participants with the flexibility to ex¬plore 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:
Twitter: @Debevoise

This Firm's Rankings in
USA Guide, 2022

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 2)
    • Environment: Mainly Transactional (Band 3)
    • 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)
    • Banking & Finance (Band 2)
    • Capital Markets: Equity: Issuer Counsel (Band 3)
    • Corporate Crime & Investigations: The Elite (Band 1)
    • Corporate/M&A: The Elite (Band 2)
    • Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation (Band 3)
    • FCPA (Band 2)
    • 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)
    • 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 3)