Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP - The Inside View

Life for juniors at Gibson Dunn is a bit “like a Goosebumps choose-your-own-adventure book,” one empowered employee emphasized.

LITIGATION powerhouse” and corporate colossus Gibson Dunn needs no introduction, but here's one anyway. Founded over a century and a quarter ago in a small, dusty city with a population of 50,000 called Los Angeles, this BigLaw behemoth bulldozes the competition in its 20 office locations around the world – as numerous top-tier rankings in the various Chambers directories demonstrate. Chambers USA alone places the market leader in the very top tier for over 25 separate practice group categories, ranging from various different types of litigation (for which it is most famous) to corporate/M&A, retail, IT & outsourcing, environment, real estate, and tax.  One associate justifiably bragged: “It’s just legal stars up and down the directory!”

Most of Gibson's 1,100 or so lawyers in ten offices at home are in New York, California and DC, with the remainder in Texas and Colorado. The firm's ten overseas offices cover Asia, Europe, the Middle East and Latin America. Frankfurt became the latest international addition in 2016. Closer to home, Houston opened its doors in 2017, boosting the energy practice and becoming Gibson's second office in the Lone Star State after Dallas.

Gibson's free-market system is another famous selling point. Readers with "outgoing” personalities interested in “charting their own course” should read on.

The Work

Gibson Dunn's associates around the country told us the way they get work was a big draw when they joined. For their first couple of years, juniors can rotate through different practice areas every six months (though this is not compulsory). Furthermore, there's “no formal assignment;” instead, the free-market system allows juniors to “reach out” to senior associates and partners for work that interests them. This process is “entirely word of mouth, whether through emails or face to face.” For one satisfied junior, “it’s like a Goosebumps Choose Your Own Adventure book.”

This set-up works well both for those who know right away what work they want to do and those who don't. “I try to get my hands on anything and everything,” one open-minded junior reported. The system “empowers you to pick and choose how you want your career to look, without being constrained," a more focused associate told us. "We get a sense of ownership.” Some interviewees had traveled down some surprising paths: “I thought I’d be a litigator, but after doing one or two corporate assignments I decided to give corporate a shot.” Others liked that “you aren’t cornered into anything you don’t want.” Someone who’d had enough of M&A deals keeping them in the office until the small hours found “if you don’t like something, you can just free market your way out of there.”

“You need to develop the habit of knocking on partners’ doors” when getting to grips with the system. The first few weeks can be “a weird push and pull between wanting to get your hands dirty” and thinking “wow – how do I actually get work around here?” A litigator felt that “there's a sense you need to be savvy to get what you want,” and if you perform well, you might even find a partner knocking on your door. Some associates warned that less extroverted people might find the system tougher because “you probably don’t want to say no if you’re working with partners.” Nevertheless, “it was surprising how easy and necessary that became!” A corporate associate admitted: “Saying no is a nice option to have.”

"If you don't like something you can just free market your way out of there."

The vast majority of junior associates are in corporate and litigation, with a few in real estate and tax. Corporate newbies see a mix of M&A, capital markets, private equity, venture financing, funds, restructuring, insolvency, and securities work, among other things. “My day-to-day is different every day,” we heard a lot, and the size of the deal is “the big variable.” Associates do a lot of drafting and reviewing letters, schedules and agreements, and touching base with clients. “I started having client contact three or four months in, which was a little nerve-racking, but I jumped on board because it was needed at the time.”

Over in litigation, associates are involved in all sorts: white-collar matters, class actions, appellate work, government investigations and bankruptcy cases, among others. Junior tasks include legal research, creating outlines for depositions, identifying documents and exhibits, and fact-checking. “Most of what I do is brief writing," one reported, but "I’ve also second-chaired depositions, and I’ve done a fair amount of deep research into client issues.” Having a second language was a bonus for one litigator, given “a high level of responsibility early on” on a case with foreign clients.

Support is in place if associates find themselves overwhelmed or, on the flip side, if they’re struggling to find enough work. Only a few associates mentioned slower months; when seeking work, “if I don’t get it this time, there’ll be another chance. That’s the merit of the free system.” It is "most tested" during the busiest times, like when an enormous “emergency litigation” matter comes in. “Those cases have a gravity that sucks people in, and they can eclipse the free market system because they require so much of the office’s time and attention.”

Training & Development

Associates get a designated partner-mentor, who provides regular feedback in the lead-up to six-monthly reviews. “They’re there to let you know if there’s any room for improvement before you hit that mark.” Sources also praised mentors they’d come to know “organically” through working with them. One Californian associate was pleased to discover “the partners have beennothing but generous with their time.”

Training programs are provided across practice groups, and junior associates can drop in on whatever takes their fancy. These are usually live-streamed across offices, with a partner in the room to give their perspective on the topic.

"I sat down with lawyers from all over the world."

A training staple at Gibson is the New Lawyer Academy. Fresh recruits from across the Gibson globe are invited on a three-day retreat, held in La Quinta, California in 2018. While some reflected that they didn’t find the training as “useful” for the corporate side, they all appreciated meeting new colleagues: “I sat down with lawyers from all over the world, and everyone was nice, smart and grounded. That was really gratifying.” The new recruits also got stuck in to an array of team-building activities, with some even dabbling in a spot of karaoke – Gibson Dunn is not for the shy.

Offices & Culture

In terms of inter-office links, associates said they had “no hesitation” reaching out to other offices: “It’s less about who’s in the office, and more about who has the right skill set.”  While the “suits-style” New York office is still one of the firm’s “moreintense” offices, its associates said the LA-founded firm isn’t quite as “buttoned up” as some Big Apple firms. More than one interviewee praised how personal obligations are handled with a “Californian generosity.” Juniors spoke of a tight-knit feel here, with regular lunches, after work drinks, and weekend dinners. “I think I’m happier than my friends at other BigLaw firms.” Any negatives? “There could be more snacks in the office.”

"I'm happier than my friends at other BigLaw firms."

Over in California, some LA associates hesitate to label the office ‘laid back’, opting instead for “communal,”upbeat,” and “accepting” of life outside the office. A corporate associate revealed: “If you’ve got someone coming to do a repair, you can work from home.” Another added: “90% of my floor doesn’t eat dinner here,” though it’s quite common to take work home. “Once people get to know you, it becomes much more flexible. As long as the work gets done, you can do what you need to do.” The firm’s global support teams sit here, which is “convenient if you have a technical issue.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Washington has a reputation for being “the most culturally conservative,” but a DC associate said their office “prides itself on its work-life balance.” One highlight for summer associates here is the poolside party at star lawyer Ted Olson's home.In the smaller offices, Dallas has a family-friendly feel to it: “People know each other’s families – the kids came along to the office Halloween party.” Palo Alto doesn't miss out on the fun: along with a fantasy football league, there's an attorney band who recently took to the stage at an informal work bash. “They had a great sound! I think that is indicative of how we all get along in Palo Alto.” Gibson Dunn also has offices in Denver, San Francisco, Orange County and Houston.

Pro Bono

Interviewees spoke glowingly about how the firm “puts its money where its mouth is” regarding pro bono work – for at least one, it was the reason they chose the firm. Others valued it for giving more responsibility than they usually get. The firm has a one-for-one credit policy on pro bono hours, with no cap – they're all billable. Associates are “actively encouraged” to take on cases via regular emails, with the implied caveat: “Be reasonable,don’t do 700 hours, we do need to keep the lights on!”

"The firm puts its money where its mouth is."

Conviction appeals and asylum cases – some “a direct result of the travel ban” President Trump imposed – have kept juniors busy recently. Other matters include working with Lawyers Without Borders on a women's rights case in Kenya, and research involving several offices into police brutality, training and reform.

Pro bono hours

  • For all US attorneys: 159,093
  • Average per US attorney: 126


Around 20% of partners are now women (up from previous years), and associates pointed to female role models at the firm. Some would like to see more structure to the current women’s group: a “mentor group specifically for women, so women associates can engage with women partners and learn right off the bat.” 

"A priority in the next generation."

Diversity, particularly among ethnic minorities, “is something I think about,” several admitted. “It would be interesting to see minorities making it to partner in the smaller offices.” Comparing the LA office's workforce to that city’s ethnically diverse population, another noted “there’s work to be done.” That said, “the firm is doing good work in recruiting,” and others agreed that “it seems to bea priority for the next generation.

Hours & Compensation

Gibson Dunn doesn't impose a formal annual billable hours requirement: “There’s no real target,” associates confirmed. Informally, the goal is 1,950 hours. Some we spoke to had no problem reaching that, while others had fallen a little short but experienced “no real consequences, as long as they see that you’ve tried to push for work.” Another added: “For the first few years, they’re flexible.” One associate had heard of junior colleagues “going south of 1,200 and still getting a full bonus,though we wouldn't recommend it.

It comes as no surprise that New York scoops the prize for most “brutal hours” among the offices, with some associates clocking out as late as four in the morning during their busiest months. The firm’s ‘unlimited’ vacation policy hasn’t “culturally intimidated” any of the juniors we interviewed, though some were unsure how well it works: “Younger associates might feel scared to take vacation, so maybe a mandated rule would be better.

Strategy & Future

“It’s been a very exciting year for us,” chairman Ken Doran tells us. The firm is now “up and running” in Houston, where lawyers “handle a full range of oil and gas transactions; we have a great team there and they are a synergistic fit with our global energy practice.” Doran goes on to explain that the firm has no immediate plans to open more offices, but is interested in a particular jurisdiction: “For years we’ve been hearing that India may open up for international firms – that's yet to happen but we will continue to watch that.”

“Our long-term strategy is simple,” adds Doran. “We focus on maintaining the quality of our people. I think our culture is what separates us from other firms, and our focus on it has kept us on a good path throughout a period of great turmoil in the world.”

Get Hired

To excel in the OCI and callback, “have your story ready” and “be excited about what’s on your resume.” One networking-savvy associate advised: “Know before you show so you can ask good questions. The research I did on Gibson helped land me my place on the summer program.” Another counseled: “For some, the system could be intimidating, or an unnecessary frustration.” You should “strongly consider if there’s a better structure for you, because without that self-knowledge, the system could be detrimental.” An LA source echoed this: “It’s not uncorrectable, though. People get anxious they’re not getting enough work, when actually there’s plenty to go round.” A corporate associate also warned prospective recruits not to be stuck in “the law school train of thought of doing one thing forever. Be open to new experiences and take advantage of the free market system.”

Notable summer events: Poolside party at Theodore Olson’s home; Sailing in Annapolis; writing seminar; private tour of the U.S. Supreme Court; dinner with Ronald Kirk, who served as the 16th U.S. Trade Representative and was a member of President’s Obama’s Cabinet and the Mayor of Dallas; Day in the Hamptons; “The Negotiation” (mock M&A transaction); Ninth Circuit Court Tour; behind the scenes tour of the Padres Stadium with the General Counsel (a Gibson Dunn alum) followed by watching the game in the owner’s box; Randol Schoenberg, President of the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust and Art Law Professor at USC Law School; white water rafting and rock climbing in Vail, Colorado; volunteered at the San Francisco Food Bank.

Interview with Gibson Dunn's chairman Ken Doran

Chambers Associate:Which highlights from the past year would you like students to know about?

Ken Doran: It’s been a very exciting year for us. We opened in Houston and are now up and running there; we handle a full range of oil and gas transactions, including M&A, private equity, financial restructuring and capital markets deals. We have a great team there and they are a synergistic fit with our global energy practice.

We’ve also been able to bring in two very senior people from the Obama administration. We recruited the former general counsels of the CIA and the EPA, and they are both terrific additions for clients. In LA we added an experienced M&A lawyer who’ll be very focused on the entertainment industry. In addition, we promoted many fabulous lawyers from within the firm, so our team just gets stronger and stronger.

At an international level, we recruited a team in Paris that has given us litigation, restructuring and finance capabilities, which is very exciting. We also brought in an expert in cybersecurity and privacy there. In Hong Kong we brought in a team to add private equity, M&A and capital markets to our offering there. Meanwhile in London we recruited a partner who’ll be part of the global energy team; she’ll cover Europe and the Gulf region, and her work will be connected to what we’re doing in Houston. We added to our team in Germany to strengthen our white-collar investigation and finance capabilities in the country.

I’m very optimistic about the short, mid and long term. We’ve never been stronger and we've never had a more dedicated group of lawyers who are genuinely excited about their work. They’ve been doing amazing things in the pro bono area, especially with regards to immigration; at one point after the travel ban we had 120 lawyers stationed in airports around the country helping confused travelers. Everything was so uncertain, but they were able to impose some order and make sure the rule of law was recognized and that everyone’s civil rights were too.

CA:What’s the general strategy going forward?

KD: Our long-term strategy is simple: we focus on maintaining the quality of our people. I think our culture is what separates us from other firms, and our focus on it has kept us on a good path throughout a period of great turmoil in the world. We will continue to gain market share and profile, and we'll remain very strong financially – last year marked our 21st consecutive record year in terms of profits.

CA:Where will the firm be investing?

KD: There are opportunities in many markets for us. Certainly in the US we’ll continue to grow on both the East and West Coasts. In Houston we’re still building on our team, but I think that all of our offices will present us with good opportunities in the future.

We continue to add strength to our global platform too. We’re still adding to the team in London on both the transactional and dispute sides, and we’re also adding white-collar capabilities there. There are opportunities across the world for us in many of our practice areas. These include private equity, finance, corporate and litigation – especially with regards to white-collar work and commercial litigation within many industries.

We recently opened in Houston and Frankfurt, but we have no further plans to open new offices at the moment. However, we'll continue to evaluate opportunities on a regular basis. For years we’ve been hearing that India may open up for international firms – that's yet to happen but we will continue to watch that. To continue on the path we've set we’ve got to make sure that growth is tied to client demand; we’re really intent on serving our clients around the world, but that doesn’t mean we feel the need to be in every market.

CA:How has the firm changed since you joined?

KD: The world we live in has accelerated. The internet has changed everything about life and certainly the practice of law. Things are much faster; it’s easier to collaborate with colleagues around the world, and it’s much easier to communicate with clients 24/7. I'm not saying that when I started it was a quiet and lazy time, but things certainly moved at a different pace. Today with communication platforms we’re able to reach out immediately. Research has changed as well – back then we relied on classic libraries for the most part. We still have more than our share of hard books at the firm, but now people can have access to the entire universe of knowledge. That has broad implications on how lawyers practice and how efficient they can be. 

CA:How would you define the culture of the firm?

KD: We pride ourselves on collegiality and collaboration. We strive to treat each other with great respect up and down the firm and across all levels of seniority. There’s a genuine bond of friendship and camaraderie, which is unusual, and we hold onto it with great pride. There truly are strong, lifelong bonds between us. It certainly makes for a better environment to work in every day, but it also creates an environment where we’re not in competition – we are incentivized to produce the best results for our clients. It’s personally rewarding to come to the office and work with colleagues on a shared mission.

Pro Bono

Pro bono opportunities include: Immigration, Veterans Assistance, Domestic Violence Restraining Orders, Adoption and Guardian Petitions, Impact Litigation, Non-Profit Formation, and Corporate and Real Estate Advice to Non-profits.

Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP

333 South Grand Avenue,
Los Angeles,
CA 90071-3197

  • Head office: Los Angeles, CA
  • Number of domestic offices: 10
  • Number of international offices: 10
  • Worldwide revenue: $1,642,000,000
  • Partners (US): 317
  • Associates (US): 800
  • Contacts 
  • Main recruitment contact: John O’Hara, (jo’
  • Hiring partner: Steven E Sletten
  • Diversity officer: Zakiyyah Salim-Williams
  • Recruitment details 
  • Entry-level associates starting in 2018: 100
  • Clerking policy: Yes
  • Summers joining/anticipated 2018: 1Ls: 7, 2Ls: 129, 3Ls: 0, SEO: 1
  • Summers joining/anticipated 2018 split by office: Dallas: 6, Denver: 2, Houston: 3, Los Angeles: 23, New York: 44, Orange County: 12, Palo Alto: 4, San Francisco: 8, Washington, D:C 34
  • Summer salary 2018: 1Ls: $ 3,500 2Ls: $ 3,500
  • Split summers offered? Yes
  • Can summers spend time in an overseas office? No

Main areas of work

 Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher is renowned for both its litigation and transactional work. Major practice groups include antitrust, capital markets, class actions, environmental, electronic discovery, information technology, intellectual property, media and entertainment, mergers and acquisitions, securities, transnational litigation and white collar defense. The firm is especially known for its appellate work, particularly in the US Supreme Court.

Firm profile

Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher is a full-service global law firm, with over 1,300 lawyers in 20 offices worldwide, including ten offices in major cities throughout the United States and over 235 lawyers in their London, Paris, Munich, Beijing, Brussels, Dubai, Frankfurt, Hong Kong, Singapore and São Paulo offices. The firm is recognized for excellent legal service and its lawyers routinely represent clients in some of the most high-profile litigation matters and complex transactions in the world. 


 Law Schools attended for OCIs in 2018: Berkeley, Chicago, Colorado, Columbia, Cornell, Duke, Fordham, George Washington, Georgetown, Harvard, Houston, Irvine, Loyola, Michigan, NYU, Pennsylvania, Pepperdine, San Diego, SMU, Stanford, Texas, UCLA, USC, Vanderbilt, Virginia, Yale.

Recruitment outside OCIs:
The firm accepts applications from students and graduates from all law schools and not solely from those listed above.

Summer associate profile:
Gibson Dunn’s summer program is the single largest means through which new lawyers become a part of our firm. Each summer, Gibson Dunn brings together approximately 135 of the most accomplished and ambitious students from the top law schools across the nation, providing them with real involvement in the high quality legal work that our firm does every day. Summer associates are involved directly in the firm’s representation of its clients, maximizing their exposure to the practical aspects of lawyering. In addition to interesting client work, the summer program includes many great social activities giving summer associates the chance to get to know each other and the lawyers of the firm.

Summer program components:
The firm provides significant and substantive training to our select group of summer associates. Each summer associate receives detailed feedback on the projects that they perform plus numerous formal training programs.

Social media

Facebook: GibsonDunnCareers

This Firm's Rankings in
Chambers USA Guide 2017

Ranked Departments

    • Antitrust (Band 1)
    • Banking & Finance (Band 2)
    • Bankruptcy/Restructuring (Band 2)
    • Capital Markets: Debt & Equity (Band 3)
    • Corporate/M&A: Private Equity (Band 3)
    • Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation (Band 2)
    • Environment (Band 1)
    • Insurance: Insurer (Band 4)
    • Intellectual Property (Band 3)
    • IT & Outsourcing: Outsourcing (Band 1)
    • Labor & Employment (Band 2)
    • Life Sciences (Band 4)
    • Litigation: Appellate (Band 1)
    • Litigation: General Commercial (Band 1)
    • Litigation: Securities (Band 1)
    • Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations (Band 1)
    • Media & Entertainment: Litigation (Band 2)
    • Media & Entertainment: Transactional (Band 2)
    • Real Estate (Band 1)
    • Real Estate: Zoning/Land Use (Band 2)
    • Tax (Band 1)
    • Venture Capital Recognised Practitioner
    • Corporate/M&A (Band 2)
    • Litigation: General Commercial (Band 3)
    • Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations (Band 2)
    • Antitrust (Band 2)
    • Corporate/M&A & Private Equity (Band 1)
    • Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation (Band 3)
    • Environment (Band 4)
    • Labor & Employment (Band 1)
    • Litigation: General Commercial (Band 1)
    • Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations (Band 1)
    • Antitrust (Band 4)
    • Bankruptcy/Restructuring (Band 5)
    • Corporate/M&A: The Elite (Band 5)
    • Intellectual Property: Patent (Band 2)
    • Litigation: General Commercial: The Elite (Band 1)
    • Litigation: Securities (Band 2)
    • Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations (Band 2)
    • Media & Entertainment: Litigation (Band 1)
    • Real Estate: Mainly Corporate & Finance (Band 2)
    • Real Estate: Mainly Dirt (Band 2)
    • Tax (Band 3)
    • Technology & Outsourcing (Band 1)
    • Corporate/M&A (Band 3)
    • Corporate/M&A (Band 1)
    • Antitrust (Band 1)
    • Capital Markets: Debt & Equity (Band 4)
    • Corporate/M&A (Band 2)
    • Litigation: General Commercial (Band 3)
    • Antitrust (Band 1)
    • Antitrust: Cartel (Band 1)
    • Appellate Law (Band 1)
    • Banking & Finance (Band 4)
    • Bankruptcy/Restructuring Recognised Practitioner
    • Capital Markets: Debt & Equity (Band 4)
    • Corporate Crime & Investigations (Band 1)
    • Corporate/M&A: The Elite (Band 3)
    • Energy: Electricity (Regulatory & Litigation) (Band 5)
    • Energy: Electricity (Transactional) (Band 3)
    • Energy: Oil & Gas (Transactional) (Band 3)
    • Environment (Band 4)
    • ERISA Litigation (Band 2)
    • FCPA (Band 1)
    • Government Contracts (Band 3)
    • Intellectual Property (Band 3)
    • International Trade: Export Controls & Economic Sanctions (Band 3)
    • Investment Funds: Private Equity: Fund Formation (Band 3)
    • Labor & Employment (Band 3)
    • Leisure & Hospitality (Band 4)
    • Outsourcing (Band 1)
    • Private Equity: Buyouts (Band 4)
    • Product Liability & Mass Torts Recognised Practitioner
    • Projects: PPP (Band 2)
    • Real Estate (Band 1)
    • Retail: Corporate & Transactional (Band 1)
    • Securities: Litigation (Band 2)
    • Securities: Regulation (Band 1)
    • Tax: Corporate & Finance (Band 2)
    • Transportation: Rail (for Railroads) Recognised Practitioner
    • Transportation: Road (Carriage/Commercial) (Band 2)