With a new office in Silicon Valley and its first female leader, this magic circle member is keeping the ‘fresh’ in Freshfields.
As the tech capital of the country (or indeed the world), Silicon Valley is a seriously competitive and desirable region for law firms. By opening an office there in the midst of the pandemic in June 2020, Freshfields is making its focus on the tech and life sciences sectors loud and clear. Junior associates reiterated “there’s a desire to make sure that we can play with the big dogs in the US.” To oversee the new base in Menlo Park, the firm brought in a team of senior lawyers from Davis Polk, Latham & Watkins, Sidley Austin, and Wilson Sonsini. The move also made Freshfields the first of the UK's elite magic circle firms to open a third office in the US, beyond its bases in New York and DC (Allen & Overy opened doors in LA a few months later).
“There’s a desire to make sure that we can play with the big dogs in the US.”
Freshfields currently scoops commendable rankings from Chambers USA for its corporate/M&A and white-collar crime practices in New York, and antitrust in DC. On a national level it’s ranked top for international arbitration – in fact, Freshfields is a world leader in international arbitration according to Chambers Global, along with corporate/M&A, dispute resolution and a handful of other practices. And it’s on the international stage where the firm truly shines, scooping a head-spinning number of accolades across 33 jurisdictions.
Strategy & Future
“It’s been an interesting, transitional year,” said one junior, reflecting on the new office. “I think there’s definitely a large effort to bolster our US presence.” As well as going west, Freshfields added four M&A partners and ten associates from Cleary Gottlieb to its New York office. “A lot of people are nervous about how the firm is growing so much during this digital era of legal practice,” some commented, “but the firm has been extremely careful about not overextending. We won’t see explosive growth.” In other news, Freshfields recently became the first magic circle firm to be led by a woman when it elected Georgia Dawson as its senior partner.
Just a few junior associates are plying their trade in the new Silicon Valley office for now – the majority join in New York and another handful practice in DC. The litigation group absorbed most junior recruits, followed by M&A (all in the latter group were based in New York). A handful also joined international arbitration, finance, capital markets, and the DC-based antitrust group. Newbies have the option to sign up to a rotation system before deciding which group to settle on, with rotations lasting around six months. As well as associates getting work from partners they’ve previously worked with, we heard some groups “have brought in staffing partners to manage the workload.It’s made an incredible difference in keeping me a sane human being,” one source joked.
“By the time a dispute comes to us, it’s because the client needs cross-border expertise.”
The firm’s broad litigation group covers international arbitration and investigations, as well as securities, civil and commercial litigation. “I rarely work on anything that’s not in the hundreds of millions or billion-dollar range,” one source found. “By the time a dispute comes to us, it’s because the client needs cross-border expertise.” On that note, we heard from one junior who got to make use of their language skills thanks to the international element of work at the firm. Others we spoke with had worked on sanctions aspects of antitrust matters in DC,enforcement of arbitrational claims in New York, and more – “as a junior, you start out as a generalist doing a bit of everything.” They also noted an increase in securities litigation matters since welcoming the laterals from Cleary. While “there’s always going to be a bit of menial” document review, juniors had opportunities to help prepare witnesses for Department of Justice interviews, and got to grips with “substantive drafting of briefs.”
Litigation clients: Pepsi, Volkswagen, Marriott. The recently firm defended the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago in a contract dispute with Vertical Aviation concerning a multimillion-dollar helicopter lease agreement.
The international arbitration team does a mixture of investment treaty, civil, and commercial arbitration. While New York taps into all of these areas, the team in DC focuses moreon Latin American investment treaty and commercial arbitrations (the latter involves some pretty big arbitrations with Brazilian parties). Sources had worked on “disputes out of manufacturing agreements,” post-M&A arbitration, and matters involving oil and gas majors, mining companies, pharmaceutical clients, and paper and cardboard manufacturers. Our interviewees were pleased with the responsibilities that came their way. “I drafted a section of our statement of defense and our rejoinder,” one source said.
International arbitration clients: ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, The Glencore Group. The firm represented a Spanish agriculture company in an ICSID arbitration against the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.
M&A associates noticed a “strong pivot toward being a big player” in the pharmaceutical, technology, venture capital, and IPO investment fields. “I’ve noticed a marked change in both the caliber and deal value since the expansion with Cleary partners,” one source enthused. Whether assisting on “multibillion-dollar deals for pharmaceutical companies,” advising on some “major IPOs in Silicon Valley in the technology space,” or helping out on venture capital investments, there’s been a shift in gear for M&A associates at the firm. “There were a lot of SPAC deals over the summer,” one noted. Juniors here echoed their litigation counterparts in saying “most deals have an international component.” We heard from one source, for example, who’d “worked closely” with teams in London, Germany, and Austria. There’s also a shareholder activism team that works frequently with the firm’s Tokyo office. Responsibility came thick and fast for juniors, who found themselves as the “point person for clients’ questions,” and “handling inside and outside counsel on venture capital investments.” One happily recalled that not long after joining the firm, “I was put in front of a client presenting updates to a merger agreement.”
M&A clients: Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Universal Music Group, London Stock Exchange. The firm advised Google in its $4.5 billion equity acquisition in Reliance Jio Platforms, an Indian technology company.
“Freshfields has excelled in mentorship and informal training,” associates praised, with one litigator highlighting “lots of direct mentoring on cases” from more senior associates.Some were grateful to get “exposed to the business side of the firm, including opportunities to partake in business development and autonomy to develop client relationships.” Others took a different view when it came to the formal training on offer, with one saying “I wish the firm did a bit more teaching or feedback.” Generally though, our sources liked learning on the job: “Doors are always open, even for things that should have been learned in corporate 101!”
Looking to the future, associates said “there isn’t a recipe” for progression and promotions. “If I wanted to make partner I don’t know what I’d have to do exactly.” Sources acknowledged their uncertainties could be because of the makeup of the firm’s senior ranks. “The firm is establishing itself with laterals instead of homegrown partners treading a familiar route,” one explained. In 2020, the firm promoted four US associates to partner.
Our interviewees also reckoned lateral hires had an effect on the cultural dynamics of the firm. “A homegrown office might have a uniform culture,” one speculated. “Whereas Freshfields has a ‘pluralistic’ culture with lots of people from a few places.” Uniform or not, our sources agreed that Freshfields “is a very welcoming place,” peopled by “encouraging and positive” colleagues. Alluding to the firm’s roots in London, associates said “it doesn’t feel like an offshoot of Britain,” though some observed “the firm has tried to keep its English aspects of a polite and collegial culture and approach.”
“A ‘pluralistic’ culture with lots of people from a few places.”
Whether through happy hours or “congregating around the secretary desk with snacks,” interviewees had the impression that “there’s a more human approach to practicing law here.” One junior said “I would never describe it as a party firm, but we’re very sociable.” By way of (pre-pandemic) example, “sitting down to have lunch every day with my colleagues, knowing I can talk and complain, makes the marathon of BigLaw more manageable.”
Hours & Compensation
Billable hours: no requirement
Indeed, the adage ‘it’s a marathon not a sprint’ is appropriate for any BigLaw firm. With a critical cap on, one associate told us “my only complaint is one that is universal at BigLaw firms – the hours can be long and grueling.” Others more optimistically reckoned “it’s relatively manageable for BigLaw.” Let’s dig into the ‘relatively.’ Both corporate and litigation sources considered an “all-consuming” though thankfully uncommon week to be in the region of 80 hours – “that would be if I was swamped.” Over 60 hours a week was more “expectedly busy,” but interviewees reckoned 40 to 50 hours was more typical (the average in our survey was 59). “I don’t feel like I’m burning out,” one junior reassured us. “I’m in the sweet spot of being happily busy.”
Our sources were content with market-rate compensation and dubbed lockstep bonuses “a huge, huge plus.” Bonuses aren’t tied to hours and there’s no billing requirement, but associates suggested there’s a soft target of around 1,800: “If you were below that someone might look at you funny.”
Juniors noted a “broad range”of pro bono opportunities available at Freshfields, from asylum seeker applications to criminal justice work to LGBTQ+ rights initiatives. Freshfields’ international reach also flavored pro bono, such as public international law and human rights law natters, “which are extremely interesting” – public international law is another top capability of the firm’s on a global scale. “It’s great to be able to do large, substantive, collaborative matters across offices,” associates said, agreeing that “you’re always encouraged to do pro bono. It’s taken very seriously, and pro bono hours are looked at in the same way as billable hours.”
Pro bono hours
- For all US offices: 16,875
- Average per US attorney: 78
“Non-diverse partners are extremely invested.”
Diversity & Inclusion
“Pretty much like any law firm, it could use more diversity,” associates said. One junior told us “I’m pleasantly surprised that the firm is making business decisions to confront the issue head on,” pointing to more diverse incoming classes as well as the Silicon Valley partnership hires as evidence of changing tides. Sources also described well-attended events, initiatives, and affinity groups made up of diverse and non-diverse attorneys alike. “Non-diverse partners are extremely invested,” confirmed one junior. Sources specifically highlighted “lots of initiatives to broaden the scope of our work with the LGBTQ+ community,” such as the firm’s ‘Champions’ network, which anyone can join to demonstrate their support for LGBTQ+ equality.
The first stage: recruitment on and off campus
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
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.
Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer LLP
601 Lexington Avenue,
- Head Office: New York, NY
- Number of domestic offices: 3
- Number of international offices: 25
- Worldwide revenue: $1.8 billion
- Partners (US): 56
- Associates (US): 167 (Includes associates, counsel, staff attorneys, contract attorneys, referendar, trainees, and secondees)
- Main recruitment contact: Lesley Stumphauzer
- Hiring partner: Jerome Ranawake
- Sr. Manager, Diversity and Inclusion - US: Kelly Fullwood
- Recruitment details
- Entry-level associates starting in 2021: 19
- Clerking policy: Yes
- Summers joining/anticipated 2021: 1Ls: 2, 2Ls: 47, SEO: 1
- Summers joining/anticipated 2021 split by office: NY: 39 (including one SEO); DC: 9 SV: 2
- Summer salary 2021: 1Ls: $3,653/week 2Ls: $3,653/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 over 200 lawyers in the US, including 56 partners, with offices in New York, Silicon Valley andWashington, DC. The US lawyers collaborate with their colleagues in 28 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 2021:
Albany Law School, Boston College Law School, Boston University School of Law, , Columbia University Law School, Cornell, Duke Law School, Fordham University School of Law, Georgetown University Law Center, Harvard Law School, McGill University Faculty of Law, New York University School of Law, Northwestern University School of Law, Stanford Law School, UC Berkeley School of Law, University of Chicago Law School, UC Hastings College of the Law, UCLA School of Law, University of Michigan Law School, University of Pennsylvania Law School, University of Texas School of Law, University of Virginia School of Law, Vanderbilt Job Fair, 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, Silicon Valley, 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, 2021
- Litigation: Securities (Band 4)
District of Columbia
- Antitrust (Band 3)
- Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations (Band 5)
- Corporate/M&A: Highly Regarded (Band 2)
- Litigation: Securities (Band 4)
- Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations: The Elite (Band 2)
- Tax (Band 5)
USA - Nationwide
- Corporate Crime & Investigations: Highly Regarded (Band 1)
- Corporate/M&A: Highly Regarded (Band 4)
- International Arbitration: The Elite (Band 1)
- International Trade: CFIUS Experts (Band 4)