Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP - The Inside View

For a litigation powerhouse, and one of the top firms in the country, you might not expect associates to be so "darn happy.” We investigated why this is the case...

“BIGLAW paradise” is how one loved-up associate described international heavyweight Gibson Dunn. Surely this is an oxymoron? Established in Los Angeles, the firm now has 20 offices around the world, but associates in New York assured us: “It’s kept its California culture, making it more laid back and less traditional than you might expect.” Gibson Dunn picks up no fewer than 25 top-tier rankings in the Chambers USA, including for a plethora of litigation sub-categories, antitrust, real estate, and corporate. Gibson Dunn has a big summer class and first-year intake of over 100 nationwide. At the time of our research around 35% of juniors were sat in New York, followed by 15% in Los Angeles and Washington DC respectively, with the remainder split between San Francisco, Orange County, Denver and Dallas.

“I wanted to be in control of my own destiny.”

Associates were drawn to the firm’s impressive reputation and headline-hitting cases, but the free-market work allocation system also proved a hit with many of our interviewees. “I wanted to be in control of my own destiny,” one said grandly this was a sentiment that cropped up a lot in our research. The work allocation system was said to have a positive effect on the firm's culture. “When I first came here the lawyers were clearly very smart but also really darn happy,” one cheery source said.

Strategy & Future



Gibson Dunn recently enjoyed its 22nd consecutive year of revenue growth. “Gibson Dunn prides itself on being fiscally conservative," a junior told us. "That can be frustrating if say you want a new standing desk... but no attorneys got laid off during the last recession. It’s nice to feel like we’re all on the same team and that you’re not fungible.” Associates attend town hall meetings with senior partners, as well as retreats on which they’re updated on the latest news. Indeed, managing partner Ken Doran tells us: "We are committed to organically growing where we see client opportunities to do so while remaining fiscally rock-solid and debt-free. Our two newest offices in Frankfurt and Houston and recent laterals exemplify that approach." Elaborating on the firm’s business model, a junior source explained: “During a recent presentation they explained that our top 20 clients only make up a small percentage of our whole revenue – we’re not beholden to any one client.” Gibson Dunn is best known for its litigation work it's here the firm earns its best Chambers USA rankings but associates highlighted that in terms of numbers it has “a fairly even distribution between transactional and litigious work which is beneficial to the fiscal health of the firm.” 

The Work



For their first couple of years associates can rotate through different practice areas every six months (e.g. from litigation to corporate and back), although most associates we spoke to found they soon settled into one area via the free-market system. “The system keeps all parties accountable because if senior lawyers are rude or too demanding it’ll hurt their ability to staff matters,” a junior pointed out. Others agreed. One added: “It helps people’s morale to be able to work with whom they choose.” Some revealed they were initially “nervous” about having to seek out opportunities themselves in the free market. But one told us: “I was nervous for the wrong reasons – you have to be careful not to take on more than you can handle!” The majority of associates settle into litigation or corporate (around 60% of juniors were in litigation at the time of our research), with a few in real estate and tax.

“It helps people’s morale to be able to work with who you choose.”

Gibson Dunn's litigation practice wins tons of accolades in Chambers USA: it's top-ranked across all four litigation categories in California and is also ranked in band one for litigation in both New York and DC. That's a feat no other firm can match. Junior litigators found themselves involved in white-collar matters, class actions, appellate work, government investigations, and bankruptcy cases, to name a few. Tasks like document review and discovery make up a chunk of juniors' work (about a third according to one first-year), but we also heard from sources who had first-chaired depositions, drafted motions, written appellate briefs, and worked on memoranda for major clients. “Now that I’m in my third year I’m starting to take on the case management role,” a source added. The team's biggest cases might involve three or four partners and an equal number of associates (sometimes more), though associates told us some cases are “staffed pretty leanly.”

Litigation clients: UBS, Chevron, Expedia, Home Depot, and Capital One. Defended Facebook during the high-profile litigation that followed alleged misuse of Facebook data by data firm Cambridge Analytica.

The corporate practice is recognized by Chambers USA with rankings in California, New York, DC, Colorado, Texas, and nationwide. Corporate newbies see a mix of M&A, capital markets, private equity, venture finance, funds, restructuring, insolvency, project finance and securities work. “I’ve had the opportunity to draft purchase agreements, liaise directly with clients and draft closing certificates," one source told us, adding: "Partners have a very general practice, so I’ve been able to get a wide range of experience.” Another interviewee enthused: “The amount of drafting experience blew my mind. I’ve helped draft massive purchase agreements and agreements to form new companies.” One junior told us how their responsibilities had developed: “When I started I’d never worked on capital markets before, but now I’ve worked on several deals to the point where I’m operating as the lead associate on a deal working with a partner.” There's also "a lot of client exposure," sources agreed. One said: "I’ve had a lot of direct contact: messaging clients, sending them drafts, and attending meetings and closings in person."

Corporote clients: General Electric, Kraft Heinz, MGM Growth Properties, Merck, and Goldman Sachs. Represented PepsiCo in its $3.2 billion acquisition of SodaStream and Bare Foods.

“The amount of drafting experience blew my mind."

Career Development



“The firm has an up-or-out mentality after about seven years at the firm," interviewees agreed. "Partnership opportunities are on par with other BigLaw firms.” Take note that the firm welcomes about ten times as many summers each year as it makes up partners, so it has a very pyramidical structure. This didn’t bother sources, however. “It’s not a problem for people to leave," one junior said. "Partners circulate opportunities at other companies and that’s part of the business model here. They want alumni going to clients or companies that will go on to become clients.”

One Washington DC newbie told us career development “is usually manifested in informal mentor relationships,” explaining that: “Because people are so busy it can be hard to keep the wheels on a formal system.” While there are optional monthly training sessions covering a range of subjects, the majority of training takes place on the job, often by being “given assignments that feel like a reach." Associates added: “There’s a professional development office that checks in regularly and does a really good job of updating our website with useful resources.”

Culture



The firm's free-market work allocation system “rewards teamwork and collaborative effort,” associates agreed, which in turn creates a sense of “egalitarianism.” One interviewee did point out: “Gibson Dunn has a way of compensating partners that encourages collaboration, and the firm also interviews lateral hires incredibly rigorously in order to keep our culture intact.” Sources agreed that this thorough policy extends to law school recruitment, explaining: “During recruiting there’s an extra screener during which applicants are selected to attend a dinner that essentially functions as an extended second interview.”

Practice groups go on retreats every couple of years which are an opportunity to network across offices. There’s also a New Lawyer Academy where lawyers from around the world get together when they join the firm. These jaunts aren't purely for leisure. Associates told us: “There’s a ton of cross-office staffing and I’ve ended up working on two deals through building relationships on retreats, so it really does pay dividends.”

A West Coast junior reported: "TheLA office specifically is not particularly sociable. People have families and go home for family dinner, which I think is a great thing. The lack of a formal face time policy gives flexibility, but contributes to a less sociable atmosphere." A New York colleague reflected: “Our office has a reputation for being conservative but I don’t think that’s true. I don’t think there’s any real political culture here." The firm's political reputation is wide-spanning. Republican Ted Olson is one of the firm's leading partners he served in the Reagan and George W. Bush administrations and acted for the claimants in the 2009 California equal marriage case which, one junior said, "gives the sense that the firm is well regarded in the LGBT community."

Get Hired



"If you did all the work on a group project at high school you’ll probably fit in here," one junior said. "You have to be willing to make an effort on small projects." Find out more about what it takes to get hired at Gibson Dunn by clicking the 'Bonus Features' tab above.

Hours & Compensation



There’s a soft target of 1,950 hours, which associates described as "fine." Associates reasoned that the target works out as 40 hours a week. In practice things are much more up and down than this average suggests. "For about the past four months I've done about 55 to 60 hours per week," one interviewee said, while another shared: "Right now things are pretty slow. I'm not on a deal, so I left at 4pm." One source reflected on how they were treated when working long hours: "There are times you’re completely crushed, doing crazy hours. When that happens the opportunity to work from home on the day after a 15-hour day is really nice – you’re not expected to be here then unless there's a meeting."

“You just have to be respectful yet firm and not feel guilty about taking vacation.”

Sources said that “even if people don’t meet the target very few people don’t get a bonus,” though “if you want to advance to partner you need higher hours.” Gibson Dunn matched the 2018 salary raise, and bonuses are allocated on a discretionary basis (the firm told us that they tend to be at least on a par with the market rate or above).

The firm’s unlimited vacation policy received mixed reviews. One source felt: It’s hard to decide when to take time off when everyone wants to contribute and be a team player.” Another advised: “I’ve learned you just have to be respectful yet firm and not feel guilty about taking vacation.” Most agreed that “people do step up and protect your time off. You just need to get the work done.”

Diversity & Inclusion



“There’s never been a better time to be a woman at Gibson Dunn,” one second-year told us. “The firm is aware there’s a lack of female partnership and is actively putting in resources.” One example is the recent implementation of “amazing” implicit bias training by the firm's chief diversity officer. “You can already see it paying off in the promotion and retention of women,” one source felt. In both 2017 and 2018 over 30% of partners promoted were women. There are a range of affinity groups including ones for attorneys of color, women and LGBT people."We’ve been able to attend a number of Lambda Legal conferences,” a source said. We also heard that there's a 'First Generation Professional Group' that Gibson attorneys can get involved in too.

“There’s never been a better time to be a woman at Gibson Dunn.”

Interviewees believed “the firm is certainly underperforming when it comes to ethnic minorities.” A DC source felt: “There’s a vicious circle where the office isn’t diverse, so diverse candidates don't want to come here.” Others called for “more training for management. Senior lawyers have a bias and they need to be educated about that.” Gibson Dunn has in fact rolled out mandatory unconscious bias training firmwide. One associate involved in recruiting told us: “This year we introduced a standardized rubric during interviews that aimed to get people to compensate for their biases.”

Pro Bono



Though the firm has no formal billing target, juniors told us it gives "one-for-one" billable credit for pro bono, which one interviewee described as “the best policy the firm has.” In New York associates “get emails literally every day – every type of pro bono is out there and if something isn’t available the firm is really good at taking proposals.” A source in Los Angeles told us: "It takes a while for pro bono to ramp up, but once you do get plugged in, it's a great way to do work that benefits something you love and that’s close to your heart."

We heard about associates working with the ACLU to protect immigrants under DACA (which was recently rolled back by the Trump administration); with Lawyers Without Borders in Kenya and Tanzania; with advocacy organizations assisting with name changes for transgender people; and with women’s rights groups. Those in corporate do advisory work for nonprofits as well as litigation.

Pro bono hours

  • For all US attorneys: 134,660
  • Average per US attorney: 114

Get Hired



The first stage: recruitment on and off campus

OCI applicants interviewed: undisclosedInterviewees outside OCI: undisclosed

Total interviewees 2018: 1,930.

Gibson Dunn conducts OCIs at 26 law schools and accepts resume drops year-round. Hiring partner Steven E. Sletten tells us: “Our 'feeder schools' are exactly what you would expect — the Top 25 law schools provide the majority of our incoming summer and new associates.” He notes, however, that the firm also recruits from outside of this group, “especially for offices located in the same cities as those schools.” He notes that the firm interviewed 1,930 students in 2018. The interviews themselves are conducted by a team of partners and associates, and Sletten tells us that they’re looking for candidates who display “strong critical thinking skills, have impeccable professional judgment, and exhibit a strong work ethic.” He also flags the firm’s free market system, explaining that candidates need to seek out their own work. Associate sources agreed: “We want someone who have a go-getter type of attitude, but you also have to be personable and willing to take on work so people will want to work with you.” Another revealed: “When they’re recruiting at schools they’ll put on an initial screener in which you are – or are not – invited to a dinner. It’s two hours long and it’s essentially an extended second interview, after which the associates stay and talk about them for several hours.”

Top tips for this stage:

"Come into the interview prepared, show enthusiasm for legal issues and work, and exhibit a level of energy and conviction that signals to us that the candidate would thrive in our free market system and ultimately contribute to the firm’s business and life as a whole." — Hiring partner Steven E. Sletten.

Callbacks

Applicants invited to second stage interview: undisclosed

Those invited back to GD’s callback stage will see firsthand the firm's appetite for socializing (and for dining). Callbacks consist of one-to-one interviews with a mix of partners and associates, followed by one or two meals with Gibson Dunn attorneys. Sletten explains: “These meals offer candidates another more informal setting to demonstrate why they would be successful at our firm and likewise gives our lawyers the opportunity to interact with the candidate in a less structured environment.” He adds that at this stage, “more questions might be asked about a candidate’s specific experiences or a candidate’s particular connection to and/or interest in the city in which their selected office is located.” Associates told us: “By the time their resume reaches my desk I’m confident they’re qualified, so from that point we’re looking for someone who’s going to perpetuate the Gibson Dunn culture and understand our work environment.”

Top tips for this stage:

"Researching Gibson Dunn interviewers with whom the candidate will be meeting as well as the firm generally and the select office ahead of time enables the candidate to offer specific questions and more relevant topics of conversation." — Hiring partner Steven E. Sletten.

Summer program

Offers: undisclosedAcceptances: 133

GD’s summer program, according to Sletten, “is designed to help facilitate a smooth transition from law school to legal practice and provides training in areas such as legal writing, depositions, and corporate transactions.” Summer associates can work with multiple partners and practice groups and get feedback on each assignment. They also get stuck in with pro bono matters, as well as a busy social calendar which ranges “from sporting events (a Mets baseball day in New York is a perennial inclusion) to small-group dinners at partners’ houses to legal networking events (like a tour of the Ninth Circuit courthouse in Pasadena, led by a Circuit Judge) to an annual diversity reception.” Sletten tells us: “The vast majority of our summer associates return and join us as associates after they finish law school or, if applicable, their clerkship.”

Top tips for this stage:

"Summers should take every opportunity (whether in the office or at external events) to connect with as many of our attorneys as possible.  Not only will this give them more exposure across their office, it also creates more opportunities to develop the mentoring relationships that are so essential to success in the law."Hiring partner Steven E. Sletten.

And finally… An associate told us: “You have to be willing to make an effort on small projects and be collegial because you have to be pleasant to work with in a free market system.”

Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP

333 South Grand Avenue,
Los Angeles,
CA 90071-3197
Website www.gibsondunn.com

  • Head office: Los Angeles, CA
  • Number of domestic offices: 10
  • Number of international offices: 10
  • Worldwide revenue: $1,819,872,536
  • Partners (US): 336
  • Associates (US): 757
  • Contacts 
  • Main recruitment contact: John O’Hara, Chief Recruiting Officer (JOHara@gibsondunn.com)
  • Hiring partner: Steven E Sletten
  • Diversity officer: Zakiyyah Salim-Williams
  • Recruitment details 
  • Entry-level associates starting in 2019: 107
  • Clerking policy: Yes
  • Summers joining/anticipated 2019: 1Ls: 9, 2Ls: 133, 3Ls: 0
  • Summers joining/anticipated 2019 split by office: Dallas: 11, Denver: 5, Houston: 6, Los Angeles: 23, New York: 39, Orange County: 13, Palo Alto: 5, San Francisco: 9, Washington, D:C 30
  • Summer salary 2019: 1Ls: $3,653.85 2Ls: $3,653.85
  • 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, artificial intelligence, betting and gaming, 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 1,350 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.

Recruitment
Law Schools attended for OCIs in 2019:
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 primary means through which new lawyers become a part of our firm. Each summer, Gibson Dunn brings together approximately 135 of the most accomplished, ambitious, and personable 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 and substantive training programs, the summer program includes many unique social activities that give summer associates the chance to make lasting connections with each other and the lawyers of the firm.

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

Social media:
Recruitment website: www.gibsondunn.com
LinkedIn: Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP
Facebook: GibsonDunnCareers
Instagram: gibsondunnandcrutcher

This Firm's Rankings in
USA Guide, 2019

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)
    • 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: Zoning/Land Use (Band 2)
    • Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation (Band 2)
    • Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation (Band 2)
    • Corporate/M&A (Band 2)
    • Litigation: General Commercial (Band 3)
    • Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations (Band 1)
    • Natural Resources & Energy (Band 1)
    • Antitrust (Band 2)
    • Corporate/M&A & Private Equity (Band 1)
    • Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation (Band 4)
    • Environment (Band 3)
    • 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 4)
    • 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)
    • Real Estate (Band 2)
    • Corporate/M&A (Band 2)
    • Real Estate (Band 1)
    • Tax (Band 2)
    • Antitrust (Band 1)
    • Capital Markets: Debt & Equity (Band 3)
    • 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)
    • Capital Markets: Investment Grade Debt: Issuer Representation (Band 3)
    • Corporate Crime & Investigations (Band 1)
    • Corporate/M&A: The Elite (Band 3)
    • Energy: Electricity (Regulatory & Litigation) (Band 4)
    • Energy: Electricity (Transactional) (Band 3)
    • Energy: Oil & Gas (Transactional) (Band 2)
    • Environment (Band 3)
    • ERISA Litigation (Band 3)
    • 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 2)
    • Leisure & Hospitality (Band 3)
    • 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)
    • Sports Law Recognised Practitioner
    • Tax: Corporate & Finance (Band 2)
    • Transportation: Rail (for Railroads) Recognised Practitioner
    • Transportation: Road (Automotive) (Band 3)