You might expect this self-proclaimed ‘oldest global law firm’ to be a tad stale, but juniors tell us it’s fresh as a daisy and pursuing new heights in the USA.
THE USA in 2020 is very different to London in 1743. People live longer, the buildings are taller than three floors, professionals no longer have to wear foot-tall wigs, and New York is no longer a British-run lumber yard. Nonetheless here stands a firm that has its roots in that time and place and has since fixed itself resolutely among the legal world’s global elite. Its status in the US has developed too: twenty-five years ago, Freshfields USA consisted of about 30 lawyers on half a floor in New York and a quarter of a floor in DC. Today, the two offices house around 200 attorneys, who together have achieved a solid set of Chambers USA rankings. The firm especially stands out for its international arbitration expertise on a nationwide basis but is also rated in New York for its litigation (white-collar and general commercial) and corporate/M&A know-how and in DC for all things antitrust. The bigger picture, however, shows that Freshfields is a hands-down world leader: it’s collected over 150 rankings in Chambers Global, across all kinds of jurisdictions and practice areas – not to mention its seemingly endless list of rankings in Chambers UK and Chambers Europe. Freshfields is one of five firms topping the global-wide M&A rankings.
“What surprises people when they get here is that it definitely doesn’t feel European,” one associate told us. “It’s impossible to deny the realities of our heritage,” says incoming managing partner Matthew Herman, but “people who might be thinking of coming to a sleepy outpost, taking English clients to see Hamilton and then being home by 3pm – that’s not this place. You look down the halls and it looks and feels like any other NYC law firm. It’s a high-performance, client-facing business, and that’s what you get as an associate coming to a place like this.”
Strategy & Future
Herman tells us that in his first year as managing partner, he’s excited to “implement further execution of our US growth strategy.”This involves key lateral hires, following the hiring of four partners from Cleary into the transactional and litigation teams in 2019. “We’ve laterally hired people with a substantial market reputation before joining Freshfields,” Herman says. With a British sporty twist, he goes on to explain: “We’re building a premiership football team, so we want to grab a keeper from Chelsea, a striker from Man United. So, we’re trying to win games, but also to play as a team.” You get the gist: it’s about picking the best from the best. If that’s left you with a hankering to know more about British soccer, we recommend googling ‘the English Premier League.’ To read more from US managing partner Matthew Herman, head to the Bonus Features tab.
Over half of the associates on our list were in dispute resolution, with the rest split between capital markets; finance; M&A (all in NY); and antitrust, competition and trade (or ‘ACT,’ all based in DC). An assignment partner “manages people’s capacity, making sure everyone stays busy but not too busy,” though in some groups there’s also “an informal process” which sees juniors getting their work directly from partners once they’re settled. Some juniors opted to rotate between different practice groups for their first year and appreciated the flexibility: “It lets you explore your options. There’s no Harry Potter-style sorting hat!”
“There’s no Harry Potter-style sorting hat!”
Dispute resolution at Freshfields covers international arbitration, investigations and civil litigation. Juniors tend to be a generalist for the first few years before specializing, as “the core skills you learn in each group are important.” The groups use cross-staffing on many matters. Litigation work can cover industries such as retail, oil and gas, and finance in matters such as shareholder litigation, cross-border M&A disputes and the enforcement of arbitrations. To start with, juniors do “administrative filings and lots of doc review. I worked on one case that had one million documents!” However, they soon move up to substantive research tasks and draft the likes of letters and summaries of information. Interviewees reckoned investigations matters gave them the opportunity to get “much more substantive work” overall. This included client contact, as well as the chance to interview witnesses and present to regulators. As the work is “very fact-heavy, there can be some interesting things to be found in the doc review process.” Juniors here told us that some cases are “very fast-moving, so we have to think on our feet and move nimbly. That’s very exciting to work on.”
Litigation clients: PepsiCo, Chevron, ExxonMobil. Defended Jimmy Choo against an alleged breach of contract case brought by a former employee.
The international arbitration group typically represents overseas investors “who will have had their assets taken away or been subject to some form of unfair treatment. They have rights under an investment treaty to compensation.” There’s also the chance to do some commercial arbitration, which involves cross-border contract work in industries such as shipping, private equity, oil and gas, agriculture, aviation and – the most bizarre we heard – paper. Juniors rated working in the department as “fascinating – it touches on all sorts of cross-cultural issues and specific policy issues that make it a rich area for practice.” Though you can expect to dodge the million-strong doc review here, juniors in arbitration are “typically first and foremost the document masters. We’re the document wizards.” Doc mastering aside, juniors can be found organizing and attending meetings with clients and witnesses, on top of drafting parts of pleadings and witness statements.
International arbitration clients: ConocoPhillips, Eco Oro Minerals, The Republic of Guatemala. Represented a large European packaging company in a treaty claim against Venezuela.
All pro bono counts “one for one” as billable and is factored into “our annual appraisals and feedback.” Our interviewees told of junior associates completing over 200 hours of pro bono in a year, but most we spoke with had done around 50. We were told that pro bono matters span immigration work, giving advice to NGOs, harassment cases, and volunteering at local legal clinics. Overall, juniors felt that pro bono is “very encouraged at the firm, honestly. If you were doing less than 50 hours, you might raise some eyebrows.”
As expected, pro bono comes with international dimensions here, with sources highlighting instances where attorneys have traveled to Europe and those where matters have involved “a big international team covering New York, DC, London, Dubai, Paris and Singapore.”
Pro bono hours
- For all US offices: 17,354
- Average per US attorney: 88.5
Diversity & Inclusion
Though interviewees admitted that partners tend not to be diverse, the firm has a specific mentoring program for female associates to aid them with “rising up and making partner – we’ll hopefully see that bear fruit in the coming years.” There’s the obvious “multicultural diversity” at Freshfields, but that doesn’t necessarily translate into socioeconomic or other forms of diverse representation. On a broad scale, an interviewee noted that there are “a lot of diverse juniors coming in, but that doesn’t always filter up. They’ve not figured it out yet, like a lot of firms, but they’re trying hard.”
Juniors assured us that Freshfields is “definitely involved in your growth and career development.” As well as a formal training program, associates have annual appraisals every October. Before that meeting, they submit a self-appraisal where juniors examine themselves “against a set of criteria and career milestones.” Associates then move up through the objectives, which “cover things like legal advice, how well you draft, your client relationships. It’s a great way to step back and see your achievements.” Juniors then chat through their self-evaluation with a partner: “They do give really honest feedback – if you’re lacking in a particular area they’ll tell you to work on it.” Juniors liked that performance reviews aren’t tied to bonuses: “It’s freeing to be able to develop at your own pace.”
“It’s freeing to be able to develop at your own pace.”
“One thing I found interesting,” remarked a DC junior, “is that all the associates have tended to stay – there's not as much turnover.” A colleague also picked up on this track record: “I don’t know of any associate who has left to go to another law firm – if they leave, they go to government positions but there’s been no group or firm-switching.”
As we mentioned, the firm is targeting and bringing in a lot of lateral partners as part of its US growth strategy. Despite its success on the business front, interviewees felt that the strategy “muddies Freshfields’ culture a little. It's hard to say there’s a cohesive culture at all because the partners come from all kinds of firms and bring their own culture with them. The culture is spread out between practice groups and even within practice groups between partners." But for a firm spanning 17 countries, a rather kaleidoscopic identity shouldn’t come as a surprise. “It’s a very international place. There are people here from France, Belgium, Germany and you’ll hear people speaking other languages in the hallways all the time.” At the same time, sources did identify some unifying principles that aided a sense of cohesion. We heard reports of Freshfielders being “very cordial and willing to help others out. I ask a million questions, and everyone helps me right then and there. It’s a part of how the partnership operates, so it trickles down. We’re all one team and we’re here to help each other out.”
"There are people here from France, Belgium, Germany and you’ll hear people speaking other languages in the hallways all the time.”
Hours & Compensation
“The people who are going to be happy at Freshfields are those who are more excited about having substantive opportunities early on rather than striking a balance. This is not a good place to be if you’re looking to have an interesting life outside of work,”relayed one brutally honest interviewee. While this may seem at the more intense end of the opinion scale, it did chime with the kind of hours other interviewees described working. There’s no hard billables target and none of our sources had a problem meeting the 1,800 hours that they perceived as a soft goal. ‘Slower’ (note the relative meaning of ‘slower’ here) associates came in the range of 2,000-2,200 hours while we heard of the busiest bees billing over 3,000(!). Those in New York reported leaving at 10pm (or later) on a regular basis, as well as peaks and troughs: “We can have 20-hour days when prepping for a hearing and five-hour days where there’s nothing going on.” In DC, there was more family emphasis, with associates going home at around 6:30-7:30pm to see their loved ones before logging back on, sometimes “late into the night.” In New York, meanwhile, we heard that “there’s more of an expectation for juniors to be in the office and not work from home so much.”Easing the pressure is the squeaky-clean market salary and bonus that “is very transparent generally – I’m always confident I’m going to get the bonus.”
The first stage: recruitment on and off campus
OCI applicants interviewed: 627
Interviewees outside OCI: 11
Freshfields annually visits all of the T14 law schools plus Albany, Fordham, Georgetown and McGill in Canada. A mix of partners and counsel speak to between 20 and 80 students at each. US managing partner Peter Lyons tells us his go-to questions are 'how do you define excellence?' and 'where did you learn that?' “We're looking for students who understand the concept of excellence,” he explains.
Empathy with clients, commercial awareness, and being able to fit into a team are also essential attributes in a candidate, along with the academic criteria typical to BigLaw.
Top tips for this stage:
“A common thread amongst us is that we’re all uninterested in doing something standard or run of the mill. I wanted to do something different, something interesting. I thought that this was going to be an avenue to achieve that and get unique work opportunities that I wouldn’t have elsewhere.” – a second-year junior associate
“The firm likes the prestige of certain law schools – the top 14. There are differing views across partners, but those big schools are going give an advantage over other applicants.” – a second-year junior associate
Applicants invited to second stage: 149
This stage usually takes a 'round robin' format, with each candidate meeting a handful of partners plus a counsel for 30 minutes each. Freshfields also hosts a cocktail reception where applicants can meet their (hopefully) future associate colleagues.
“This is going to be a longer interview,” Lyons points out, “so be prepared to ask questions that demonstrate you're thinking about your career and the firm in a sophisticated manner.” The firm takes a more challenging approach to callbacks than many others, drilling down on undergraduate dissertations or law school courses more than many. While some firms avoid questions that require legal analysis, Freshfields interviewers will always ask at least one each.
Top tips for this stage:
“We hire people who specifically enjoy the work of the group they want to do. Someone who’s unclear what they want to do would be less happy here.” – a third-year junior associate
“I came to the firm interested in doing something international. The idea of just dealing with New York law my entire career didn’t sound very exciting. Here I can see new challenges, learn new things and have longevity.” – a third-year junior associate
A ten-week summer at Freshfields includes various formal training sessions including in-house learning, retreats and CLEs. Most important, of course, is the legal work itself – assigned through the firm's work allocation committee of senior associates based on each applicant's interests. Every summer associate also gets the opportunity to spend two of the ten weeks in one of Freshfields' overseas offices, in order to get an idea of its international practice.
Lyons encourages summer associates to sample as many practice areas as they can and get networking with the firm's juniors and senior associates. If new arrivals aren't 100% sure on which area they'd like to head into when joining Freshfields proper, there's a rotation system on offer.
Top tips for this stage:
“What got me into Freshfields over other British firms is the people. There’s a real effort to find the people who really want to be here, specifically. We’re not a firm or office that have 150 summers and take 30. The effect is you have a bunch of people working towards common goal, which I really enjoy.” – a second-year junior associate
“I think candidates appreciate that we take interviewing seriously and ask them to think on their feet,” Lyons reflects.
Antitrust at Freshfields
The firm’s antitrust, competition and trade (ACT) group covers “a combo of traditional competition work, with some folks doing national security or investment review work too.” Types of matter include trade regulation, mergers that have antitrust concerns, and antitrust investigations, as well as standard HSR filings for pre-merger notifications. Juniors found it “cool to learn about a whole new industry with every case.” We heard that due to the small size of the group, there are “substantive responsibility opportunities.” This is reportedly enhanced by the lack of mid-levels in the group. Juniors here typically manage the doc review process with contract attorneys, prepare merger notification filings, prepare witnesses for examination, conduct divestiture analysis, and draft opening and closing statements, as well as submissions to the DOJ. Overall, juniors found this “engaging and stimulating ork – it’s unbelievably fun!”
ACT clients: Starbucks, United Airlines, AstraZeneca. Advised Johnson & Johnson on the acquisition of TachoSil, a surgical bleeding control patch.
When M&A meets antitrust
Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer LLP
601 Lexington Avenue,
- Head Office: New York, NY
- Number of domestic offices: 2
- Number of international offices: 25
- Worldwide revenue: $1.8 billion
- Partners (US): 41
- Associates (US): 157 (Includes associates, counsel, staff attorneys, contract attorneys, referendar, trainees, and secondees)
- Main recruitment contact: Lesley Stumphauzer
- Hiring partner: Jerome Ranawake
- Diversity officer: Tim Wilkins
- Recruitment details
- Entry-level associates starting in 2020: 18
- Clerking policy: Yes
- Summers joining/anticipated 2020: 1Ls: 2, 2Ls: 12, 3Ls: 0, SEO: 1
- Summers joining/anticipated 2020 split by office: NY 12 (including one SEO); DC 3
- Summer salary 2020: 1Ls: $ 3,462/week 2Ls: $ 3,462/week
- Split summers offered? No
- Can summers spend time in an overseas office? Yes
Main areas of work
Freshfields’ US offices concentrate on corporate and finance transactions, restructuring and insolvency, antitrust, tax, litigation and international arbitration, while the firm’s US attorneys based in Europe and Asia focus on corporate and securities transactions.
Freshfields has nearly 200 lawyers in the US, including 41 partners, with offices in New York and Washington, DC. The US lawyers collaborate with their colleagues in 27 offices around the world, including more than 350 US-qualified lawyers in total. Our US lawyers are internationally recognized as leaders in their respective fields, with four in five US partners cited for their expertise by the leading global directories.
Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2020:
University of Chicago Law School, Columbia University Law School, Cornell, Duke Law School, Fordham University School of Law, Georgetown University Law Center, Harvard Law School, University of Michigan Law School, New York University School of Law, Northwestern University School of Law, University of Pennsylvania Law School, Stanford Law School, Vanderbilt Job Fair, UC Berkeley School of Law, University of Virginia, Yale Law School
Recruitment outside OCIs:
Students who do not attend one of the law schools at which we conduct on campus interviews are welcome to submit their materials for consideration.
Summer associate profile:
Freshfields recruits lawyers with many different talents and values individuality. The firm’s ability to offer diverse skills locally and across international borders ensures clients have the very best advice possible. Freshfields operates a summer program for US law students in its New York, Washington, DC, Hong Kong, and London offices.
Summer program components:
Freshfields’ summer program provides summer associates with exposure to several practice areas. Summer associates get substantive work supported by both formal and informal mentors. Most summer associates spend part of their summer in other Freshfields overseas offices such as London or Hong Kong.
Recruitment website: freshfields.com/en-us/careers/united-states/united-states-careers/
This Firm's Rankings in
USA Guide, 2020
District of Columbia
- Antitrust (Band 3)
- Corporate/M&A: Highly Regarded (Band 3)
- Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations (Band 3)
USA - Nationwide
- International Arbitration (Band 1)