Move over Pitbull – at this magic-circler every attorney can call themselves Mr. or Mrs. Worldwide.
THIS fresh prince among firms has been keeping it fresh since 1743. It started out in London, and has since built a global empire of top class lawyers and a coveted place in the British 'magic circle'. “Our global connections will always be the selling point,” juniors told us proudly. If you study the firm's profile on Chambers Global you'll discover an impressive picture indeed: Freshfields has earned more than 50 top prizes across numerous jurisdictions, and in corporate law, antitrust, disputes, tax and labor law, the firm is an outright world leader.
At the same time, “Freshfields is also trying to become a leader in the US market,” juniors added.The firm stands out when it comes to international arbitration work (for which it picks up a high nationwide ranking), but also wins recognition for its expertise in areas like antitrust, corporate/M&A, general commercial litigation, and white-collar crime litigation (all of which pick up Chambers USA nods). New York is by far the larger American base but DC takes on a handful of recruits each year too. The firm's desire to bulk up its presence in the States was another selling point for our sources: “The US offices have a really entrepreneurial culture, which a lot of homegrown firms don't.” In addition, newcomers better make sure their passport is up to date – summer associates spend two weeks in an overseas office and “most people do some traveling” at some point. All this globetrotting makes for a decidedly cosmopolitan atmosphere.
Freshfields' dispute resolution practice group absorbs the largest chunk of juniors and covers international arbitration, investigations and civil litigation. M&A's the next biggest department followed by capital markets, finance, and ACT (antitrust, competition and trade). Most groups in New York have workflow coordinators who “check in weekly” but the formal system isn't “absolutely mandatory. You're not prevented from getting work outside it – it's a nice backup.” There's a separate system for attorneys who can speak Spanish as “the priority is that they're placed on cases that need those language skills,” and in DC the “more relaxed environment” means most associates get work directly from partners.
International arbitration is the biggest slice of the disputes pie. Freshfields' signature flavor is investment treaty arbitration, and the group regularly handles disputes between Latin American states and international businesses. “They're big cases in every sense,” from the value (typically between $700 million and $1 billion) to the size of the case teams involved. “As a first-year I was mostly doing document review to start with; there's a drudgery to it as me and another junior could be managing production of about 35,000 documents altogether.” Things got more exciting over time as the focus shifted to “drafting sections of pleadings or witness statements.” Cases such as this tend to move slowly, but that's not necessarily a bad thing: “As you've gone through every document you become the expert, and the firm relies heavily on that nuanced knowledge.”
“As you've gone through every document you become the expert.”
Other litigious options include investigations and white-collar litigation, as well as an “up and coming” sanctions and trade team that can be found chiefly in DC. “For investigations I'm reviewing documents, drafting interview outlines and contributing to presentations that will be made to the Department of Justice,” a junior told us. “It's more fast-paced than arbitration and it's easier to have more responsibility from the beginning.” Almost every dispute has a cross-border dimension and associates often get whisked away to one of the firm's overseas offices for a spell.
Dispute resolution clients: Citigroup, Jimmy Choo and Volkswagen. Following a $2.6 billion arbitral award won for Exxon Mobil and Royal Dutch Shell, the firm represented petitioners in Southern District of New York litigation to confirm it.
Likewise in corporate “virtually everything involves a cross-border element.” The M&A group's client base varies from aerospace and insurance firms to tobacco and pharmaceutical companies. Furthermore, juniors “can direct their own workflow” to an extent. Some found there's “not a ton of substantive responsibility” in the early stages, “but we're still taking notes for client calls and having the initial cracks at documents, so we end up learning a lot.” On larger deals “there are usually one or two midlevel associates, so work gets delegated down, but you can take on a huge role on smaller deals.” 'Smaller' in this case means “less than $100 million” and the junior's remit stretches to “holding the pen on transaction documents and acting as first contact for clients. I've also been happy to take on a substantive role in cross-border negotiations.”
Chambers Global places Freshfields among the top two firms in the world for antitrust, and among the top four firms worldwide for M&A. We interviewed associates from the firm’s DC and New York offices to learn how these two teams spend their days and work together…
Cross-border matters of a different kind have dominated Freshfields' pro bono efforts over the past year. “We've done wonderful work representing migrants coming in from Mexico and the firm has been very encouraging of that – it's the kind of thing you see on the news and want to help with, and Freshfields gave us the chance to do it.” Our sources described a wide range of pro bono matters to get involved with, covering local domestic violence cases to international public law matters and work with NGOs to establish small business. Even insiders who were too busy to help out agreed that “it's not just lip service, the firm is really committed to pro bono. They host various events to get us excited and when teams win awards there's a newsletter to celebrate their efforts.”
Pro bono hours
- For all US offices: 14,211
- Average per US attorney: 77
Career Development & Diversity
Practice groups have annual global conferences in different locations each year. “The firm likes us to see the other offices whether it's for business trips or for a secondment,” and we heard of instances where senior associates had decamped overseas permanently. That all sounds exciting, but sources also found that the firm's relatively small US presence means “it's difficult to make partner here and not many people come in expecting it.” With their expectations kept in check, interviewees thought that “the firm does prepare you for down the road; when my team recognized I had mastered a certain skill set they gave tasks related to it to other associates so that I could develop in other areas.” There's also a robust formal training program (“it's still not as helpful as figuring things out myself”) plus annual appraisals.
“The firm is looking hard at how to grow diversity.”
“There are very few minority partners,” sources pointed out – a problem endemic to most law firms. Freshfielders noted: “There are a fair number of minorities at junior level but representation thins out toward the top. It's partially a legacy thing and the firm is looking hard at how to grow diversity.” One of the steps it's taken consists of a new initiative that provides unconscious bias training throughout the firm, which female associates thought “will help women over time.” Our female sources also drew our attention to the existence of women-centered business development events to help develop their practice. In addition, we heard that the firm's LGBT affinity group, Halo, is very active. A steady stream of new arrivals from overseas (particularly from Latin America) helps boost diversity, but sources universally acknowledged that “diversity still needs to be worked on. Hopefully the firm will continue to make progress.”
“With people from all over the world here speaking different languages, you need to be open as a person.” Learn more about how to get hired at Freshfields by clicking on the 'Bonus Features' tab above.
“Nearly every person here is working in multiple jurisdictions almost every day,” interviewees declared. “That really contributes to an open, international culture.” One associate recalled: “When I was a summer associate they asked us who'd done their 1L summer abroad. Almost everybody raised their hand.” The firm's massive global network stands in contrast to its relatively small New York and DC bases, which sometimes assume a more supporting role on matters by necessity. “I like working close-knit and feeling like what I do is genuinely important,” a source told us, while another revealed that “at one point me and four colleagues basically lived in a conference room for a week. It could have been awful, but the people around me made it a whole lot better!” DC juniors got to know their colleagues especially well: “It's a smaller group and whenever somebody new joins it's exciting. New York is a bit more extroverted with their Friday parties and partners handing out margaritas!” an associate quipped.
“...they asked us who'd done their 1L summer abroad. Almost everybody raised their hand.”
That all sounds a bit Great Gatsby and it would probably be safer to listen to Big Apple insiders who told us that “people here go out to lunch but it's not a party all the time! We'll have happy hours sometimes and there are Christmas parties but social events aren't frequent.” Overall, though, we'd argue that Freshfields' social scene is more active than the scenes at many firms: after an intense few days it wasn't uncommon for deal/case teams to “head out for midnight drinks or dinner to celebrate – those provide good chances to take a breather.”
Hours & Compensation
Determined not to sugar-coat things, associates agreed that “we're a UK firm but we're definitely working New York hours – nobody's slacking!” Across our interviews the average working hours sat at around 9am to 8 or 9pm, though some preferred “leaving around 7pm then logging on from home. It seems anywhere from 6 to 9pm is a normal home time.” There was a fair amount of unpredictability here, with transactional juniors especially suggesting that “when things aren't busy it feels like the other shoe is about to drop,” though most were happy with the firm's efforts to make things more manageable. “I got a call from a partner who wanted to check in after they saw my hours – they thought I was doing far too many!”
Freshfields doesn't have an hours requirement “and they emphasize that, though we've heard that if you're hitting 2,000 billable hours each year you're in good shape.” Interviewees were conflicted on how important that figure is and found that “it's unclear what we can count toward it,” but they were sure that any informal targets wouldn't impact the standard compensation they'd receive;bonuses are fully lockstep and every associate gets one regardless of their hours. The firm also moved quickly to keep up with the market salary increases: “They realized we needed to stay competitive in the US to attract top talent. We've all been very happy with their response.”
Strategy & Future
Some interviewees were less impressed with the firm's efforts at being transparent, and hoped to get “more communication on where management sees things going.” More in-the-know associates suggested that “they're aggressively trying to grow the New York office. It's not an easy market but we've had big-name partners come in from other firms with great connections and client bases, and a good number of the matters we work on now aren't tied to Europe.” To find out more about the future of Freshfields from US managing partner Peter Lyons, click the 'Bonus Features' tab above to read our interview with him.
The first stage: recruitment on and off campus
OCI applicants interviewed: 603 (NY office)
Interviewees outside OCI: 11 (from resume collects)
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:
“Some kind of international background or experience is probably the first thing they tend to look for on a candidate's resume.”
“There are people from all over the world here so you need to be open to lots of languages around the office.”
Applicants invited to second stage: 165
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:
“Freshfields asked me very substantive questions about my work experience and internship. We have smaller class sizes than many firms so they'll spend more time getting to know how you deal with problems.”
“In smaller offices like ours it's harder to fly under the radar so people who enjoy an entrepreneurial dynamic will do well.”
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:
“Billing loads of hours doesn't turn heads – being engaged and trying lots of new things does. If you're the right person for Freshfields – globally-minded and collaborative – you'll thrive.”
“You could very easily float through summer but I haven't encountered anybody like that at the firm. Find the people you like to work with and direct your own experience."
“I think candidates appreciate that we take interviewing seriously and ask them to think on their feet,” Lyons reflects.
Interview with managing partner Peter Lyons
Chambers Associate: How have things changed at the firm in the past 12 months?
Peter Lyons: The firm's worldwide performance has been strong, and the US is a standout within that. The firm has done well both financially and in our market profile. We've had some good mandates from the US and we're excited about our trajectory here, and the firm has made some exciting lateral hires across antitrust, litigation and other practice areas.
CA: Given the firm’s international nature, how would you describe the market within the US specifically?
PL: Over the last several years we've reinforced our position as the go-to firm for cross-border transactions. We are generally considered to be the leading antitrust firm in the world with a very strong US component. We are the leading arbitration firm in the US and globally. We have a unique litigation and arbitration offering that spans a multitude of jurisdictions. As a demonstration of our position in the market, we've recently worked on huge mandates from clients like Volkswagen and Marriott.
CA: We've heard from associates about a push to grow in New York, and from you last year about aiming to reach the 300 lawyers mark in the US: which practice areas in particular are you aiming to grow in?
PL: Right now we've built out our footprint so we've got all the practice areas we want; last year we brought in some bankruptcy partners which filled a hole for us. We also recently filled gaps in the IP and bankruptcy spheres. We’ve also brought in some high-profile partners, Andrew Ewalt and Eric Mahr, in antitrust litigation. The plan is now to build up our presences in the practice areas we're already in, which will include growing our M&A and litigation teams in the US – those are the two areas we’re building out most aggressively.
CA: Given the firm’s international nature, how does the culture differ from other firms that are US-based?
PL: We're the one firm that is jurisdictionally agnostic, and we're the only firm I know that doesn't have a predominant national culture. When you look at our US competitors, they have international offices but their heart and soul are US firms, and in fact, NY firms. We're the creature of a merger between three very large organizations, and in order for us to survive we had to sublimate any national culture for the firm so that the Brits and Germans would get along – which has been known not to happen from time to time! So we don’t have a predominate national culture.
As an example of what 'jurisdictionally agnostic' means, we recently represented CVC Capital Partners on a multi-billion dollar asset acquisition. We pitched a German, UK and US team together because the client didn't know what the governing law for the acquisition would be, but we didn’t care, because we would provide support wherever was needed. We don’t go in with a predisposed concept of the best way to support a deal.
Whichever direction our matters go in, we are indifferent as to where we get the revenue – and thus what team works on what aspect of the matter – because we put everything into a global profit pool. This leads us to a behavior that allows us to deliver better services to our clients, because there is no financial incentive to have exclusively the US office or any other office handle the entire process.
CA:What are the main challenges that international law firms will such as Freshfields have to adapt to in the future?
PL: We have to invest time and energy into making sure we really get to know each other, as what we're selling is the ability to work across multiple jurisdictions and across multiple practice groups seamlessly, in the way that others can’t. We have almost all of the specialties we want to have within our practice area, but we need to grow it out because we're still undersized in the US. We made some nice progress on that earlier this year by bringing in a couple of star partners with DOJ experience, including white collar partner Eric Bruce. Earlier this year, we brought in Mena Kaplan from Paul Weiss to augment our IP transactions business, and Aimen Mir has joined our ACT group. Recently, a major client told me Freshfields coordinated itself better across jurisdictions than any firm they'd previously seen. We need to grow the US business, and for US law students, it’s a real opportunity. There are opportunities for a long term career here that don’t exist anywhere else.
CA: Why is law an attractive profession for students to join today?
PL: The law is attractive if you can operate at the top end of the profession. If you can't get into a good law school in the US or into a good firm, the opportunities will be far more limited than they were 30 years ago. What makes the law interesting is that it's intellectually stimulating if you are operating at the high end. You engage in difficult issues on a regular basis and don’t see the same things every time. One of my friends, an investment banker, said to me a long time ago the difference between bankers and lawyers is that bankers just make money, but lawyers have a profession. We do make by any objective standard a very good living – you don't become wealthy in the classic sense, but you do very well – but lawyers have a profession and are always intellectually stimulated.
CA: Looking back at your career and the knowledge you've gained, what advice would you give to students who are about to enter the legal industry?
PL: First and foremost, have peripheral vision and look around at what you want to do. When I was in my third year of law school I thought I wanted to do antitrust, which was logical as I was an economics major. I started in tax law, then went to corporate as when I interacted with the people on the team I could think to myself that I would enjoy it and be good at it. If I had kept my head down I would have ended up an antitrust lawyer and I wouldn't have enjoyed it as much.
When you're a summer, look around at what associates do and say to yourself, “Can I see myself doing that three years from now? Would I enjoy it and would I be good at it?” Don’t come in with a preconceived notion about what you’re going to do; you're much better off considering different areas of law.
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 2019: 18
- Clerking policy: Yes
- Summers joining/anticipated 2019: 1Ls: 2, 2Ls: 12, 3Ls: 0, SEO: 1
- Summers joining/anticipated 2019 split by office: NY 12 (including one SEO); DC 3
- Summer salary 2019: 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 2019:
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, 2019
District of Columbia
- Antitrust (Band 3)
- Bankruptcy/Restructuring Recognised Practitioner
- Corporate/M&A: Highly Regarded (Band 3)
- Litigation: General Commercial: Highly Regarded (Band 4)
- Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations (Band 3)
USA - Nationwide
- International Arbitration (Band 2)