Debevoise & Plimpton LLP - The Inside View

Make some noise for Debevoise, the home of international work and lockstep compensation.

The firm may be French by name, but it’s a New Yorker by nature: international, ambitious and full of bright young things. Although the firm is headquartered in New York (with offices in DC and San Francisco), it boasts a network of six overseas offices. Rather than working in silo, folks in the US get to work with their counterparts in international offices if the matter allows. Case in point, the firm has earned accolades for its cross-border work in our sister guide, Chambers Global. Practices that get a tip of the hat include international arbitration, banking and finance, capital markets, corporate crime and investigations, corporate/M&A, disputes, IP, investigations and enforcement, private equity, investment funds and asset management, tax, FCPA and privacy and data security. Phew!

On home soil, the firm's core areas of practice are corporate, litigation and tax, however its expertise is by no means limited to just these areas. Nationwide, Debevoise gets props from Chambers USA for its work in the aforementioned practices, while the Big Apple stands out for its top-of-the-market work in insurance, IP, investigations and media & entertainment.

"The new office is really stunning.”

In addition to this sophisticated work, associates were also drawn to Debevoise for its strong commitment to pro bono, good mentorship and fair culture: “I liked that the firm takes on lots of meaningful pro bono work as opposed to just focusing on superficial interactions with clients.” Another appreciated the diverse array of talent: “Lots of attorneys have come from government positions -- it makes for great teachers and mentors.” The firms ‘fair culture’ is heavily influenced by the lockstep compensation structure.

Strategy & Future

Debevoise moved into its new headquarters at 66 Hudson Boulevard in January 2023. The firm signed the 20-year lease for the skyscraper-esque on Manhattan’s far west side. The new build has a spiral design with gorgeous views of the city. Interviewees were excited about the move: “The area is a little ecosystem in Manhattan – there are loads of parks nearby. Lots of our clients and other firms are located there too.” Debevoise has been cognizant of its staff’s needs when planning the building – sending out surveys so attorneys could express what they wanted: “A lot of us wanted free coffee. There’s also going to be a medical office and beautiful terraces. The new office is really stunning.”

The Work

Associates put their practice area preferences in when they start off at the firm. Litigation associates work as generalists for their first few years and specialize down the line. A formal rotation system is in place for corporate associates, who do at least two rotations – some even do a third. An interviewee explained, “I’ve been rotating through different practice areas – I knew I wanted to take up transactional work but I didn’t know exactly what type.” When taking our survey,67% of respondents felt satisfied with work allocation – leaving a bit of room for improvement. A central staffing coordinator and staffing partner delegate matters to juniors, taking individual needs and workloads into consideration.

The wider litigation department covers areas such as white-collar litigation, international dispute resolution and IP. Attorneys in the DC office are more likely to do white-collar litigation... “pretty much 80% of the people in my office do white-collar litigation – our office is smaller so there isn't that much wiggle room.” Matters includeinternal investigations, bribery and embezzlement. “Debevoise is a heavyweight within the white-collar litigation space – we deal with big shiny cases that you’d read about in the New York Times,” a junior boasted. An interviewee ran us through the typical process of an internal investigation: “It’s super interesting. Essentially, we’re trying to figure out if someone has lied, which is great if you’re nosey. The client will sometimes hire us if they’ve had an allegation of employee misconduct – we then check out what happened and recommend solutions.” The source continued, “This could mean a manager has engaged in discrimination or harassment – corporations in this day and age are very concerned with the proper way to handle workplace investigations.” Typical tasks for a litigation newbie include legal research, drafting and preparing for witness interviews.

Litigation clients: American Express, Twitter, Rolls-Royce. Defending former directors and shareholders of Purdue Pharma against nationwide claims concerning prescription opioids.

The corporate group has smaller sub-teams covering areas such as M&A, private equity, tax and banking. During their first two years at the firm, most corporate rookies take on due diligence: “The firm is really good at giving us drafting experience, I’ve been able to advance my skills really quickly.” Juniors receive higher levels of responsibility on smaller matters: “In corporate we have pretty big teams, I prefer to work on the lower-scale matters as I’m able to take more responsibility.” An interviewee described their role on a M&A deal: “I worked alongside a partner and counsel in Hong Kong – I helped with the drafting of the purchase agreements, prepared for meetings and the due diligence reports together.”

Corporate clients: Morgan Stanley, Verizon, Warner Bros. Discovery. Advised sovereign wealth fund Qatar Investment Authority on its co-investment to help finance Elon Musk’s acquisition of Twitter.

Culture, Hours & Compensation

Billable hours: no requirement

New York may be the city that never sleeps, but that’s not the case for Debevoise’s associates. According to this year's survey, attorneys work around 50 hours per week – a few hours less than the market average. Interviewees estimated an average working day to be 9am–7pm: “The hours have been way less demanding than I thought they’d be.” At the time of research, attorneys were expected to work in the office three days out of the week. Each practice group has its own anchor days. For example, the M&A group requires attorneys to be in every Wednesday and Thursday – the third day is up to individual choice. Attorneys felt more than satisfied with their hours – 80% of survey respondents confirmed they had a good work/life balance.

“I feel like I matter beyond my work capabilities.”

Debevoise doesn’t have a billing hours target due to the lockstep compensation structure: “This lends itself to a team-oriented culture that is neither cutthroat nor competitive. People aren't fighting for work or trying to one-up one another.” Everyone at Debevoise gets the same bonus no matter what hours they bill – the salary is also not dependent on hours and is determined by seniority. A source confirmed: “The lockstep model permeates all aspects of the culture, the firm is very collaborative.” When filling out the Chambers Associate survey, 100% of respondents felt the bonus allocation was fair and transparent. Attorneys also described the environment as polite and supportive: “I feel like I matter beyond my work capabilities.” Another source noted: “I’m going to sound very strange here but I actually get excited to go to work. The atmosphere here is enjoyable, I’m often grabbing a coffee with my mentor or getting some food with my colleagues.”

Debevoise & Plimpton is a Top 10 firm for quality of life in our 2023 survey.

Diversity, Equity & Inclusion

Debevoise is taking the right steps toward D&I; 84% of survey respondents were pleased with the firm's efforts in recruiting a diverse pool of staff. The firm has a plethora of affinity groups, including the women's, Latin and Asian networks. The women’s group has a ‘mentoring circles’ initiative: “The circles have been really useful, mine has partners, seniors and juniors – it's great to have open conversations with all sorts of levels of people at the firm.” Another female interviewee noted, “We have sessions on setting goals for the new year.”

“The firm reached out to everyone within an hour of the Dobbs decision.”

The firm also provided support to attorneys during the recent bans against abortion: “The firm reached out to everyone within an hour of the Dobbs decision; they held a call, 500 people attended and created an open space for us to talk and discuss our feelings.” As for events, associates can look forward to the attorneys of color retreat: “It spans over two days, we socialize and talk about issues that affect us.”

Career Development

“I felt supported right from the moment I started at the firm,” a source enthused. Incoming associates are given a mid-level or senior associate mentor and a partner mentor in their practice group. The firm also has an in-house career counselor to help attorneys with their career development. As for training, attorneys can wise up through the firm’s ‘business education program.' This is mandatory for first-years: “It’s essentially a crash course taught by professors – we learn things like how to read financial statements.” Debevoise also puts on practice area-specific programs, covering topics such as white-collar litigation: “I’ve attended plenty of sessions, they allow me to have a glimpse into key skills that will help me accelerate my career.”

Pro Bono 

83% of respondents felt that the firm is committed pro bono and that the work is meaningful and engaging: “The firm puts a big emphasis on pro bono and allows associates to seek out matters they are interested in.” Debevoise encourages its attorneys to take up pro bono via its uncapped hours rule. Associates and counsel who rack up 50 hours or more over the year are able to select six charitable organizations to receive donations from the firm.

“There’s no better feeling than calling up the family of the client and telling them their loved one isn't going to die in prison.”

An associate involved in the Holloway project described their role: “We represent individuals in federal prison who are facing life sentences – we try and get their sentence shortened. One of our clients got life for a nonviolent drug crime, we managed to get him out.” The source continued, “It’s very meaningful work; there’s no better feeling than calling up the family of the client and telling them their loved one isn't going to die in prison anymore.” Other sources spoke of taking up immigration matters, with a focus on the Afghanistan crisis: “We helped a young woman in Afghanistan get asylum in the US, we helped her navigate the US immigration system and argued her case.”

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

66 Hudson Boulevard,
New York,

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.

Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2023:

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 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:
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)