Herbert Smith Freehills - The Inside View

If it’s an “intimate” working experience with “the backing of a global network” you’re looking for, perhaps it’s time to head for the Freehills.

“It feels silly to describe Herbert Smith Freehills as small,” one interviewee laughed, “But our New York side is smaller than our counterparts!” HSF is just over 40 lawyers strong stateside with a sole US base in New York, but it’s by no means an amateur player in the BigLaw leagues, picking up a Chambers USA ranking for its international arbitration work. Over the pond, the firm holds a coveted place in the legal halls of fame, sitting comfortably within the silver circle and raking in an impressive 59 Chambers UK rankings. And that’s not all. “We work on matters with the backing of a global network,” interviewees highlighted. Globally, the firm is 26 offices strong, with further footholds across Africa, Asia, Australia, and the Middle East. Enter Chambers Global, which awards the firm another 168 rankings, and recognizes its status as a top global player in business & human rights law and dispute resolution.

For our interviewees, the firm’s “international profile” coupled with its “lean staffing” felt akin to striking gold. “Some other firms have summer classes of 50 to 100, but HSF’s summer felt more intimate,” interviewees reminisced. The firm takes on just four to five summer associates each year, meaning first-year cohorts are also small, and as we know, “smaller office size equals more substantive experience at the early stages of your career.” In terms of HSF's international profile, a second language may also take you a long way; the New York office heads up the firm's Latin America Group.

Strategy & Future

Ain’t no hill high enough for HSF. In 2022, the firm’s New York office reportedly grew its revenue by a whopping 20% and is itching to further grow its headcount to fill out its double-storied digs. Elsewhere in the HSF network, growth is also the aim. The firm’s most recent round of partner promotions in 2023 saw a cohort of 32 elevated to partnership. Though the class is slightly smaller than 2022’s (34 partners), it includes 47% women representation – up from 41% in 2022, and 30% in 2021.

What's more, to ensure no one's left high and dry, Scott Balber, the New York managing partner, hosts a monthly meeting to run fee earners through the firm's performance and finances.

The Work

Newbies are able to join the disputes or finance groups after having trialed them through the summer program. “It’s really the associate’s option in terms of where they want to get heavily involved during the summer,” a source explained. Once cemented at the firm, work allocation follows a relatively organic structure. “When you’re new, you have to make people aware you’re there. If you make a good impression with a senior associate or partner, you quickly become their go-to,” we heard. Associates also have weekly assignment forms where they can log their workloads for the foreseeable future to “avoid overburdening or underworking associates,” though “that process is very much secondary. You’re more likely to get put on cases where work and help is needed.”

HSF’s disputes offering includes international arbitration and product liability & masstorts. Associates sat here work on various disputes arising from loans, as well as breach of contract and large tort disputes. “In a nutshell, day-to-day I represent banks in a myriad of matters, from responding to subpoenas to fully-fledged disputes based on loan transactions,” one associate explained. “We have a separate products group but I’m still able to get involved in products matters, particularly in the fuel and oil sector,” one associate told us of the collaboration between teams. In terms of cross-office and international collaboration, a source explained, “We do get matters from our global network, but we also have a good book of business.”

On a micro level, juniors handle first drafts, assist in the management of discovery, production, and review, and run background research on various matters. “You’re given a lot of leeway with tasks like discovery requests, objections, and responses, and drafting motions to compel,” we heard. “On a high-profile case I was able to help edit and guide experts in their drafting of expert reports!”

Product liability clients: British American Tobacco, Samsung, Eni SpA. Representing British American Tobacco across Canada, Brazil, South Korea, and Nigeria.

The finance team is the only corporate-facing team in the firm’s New York office. “We’re the smallest team in our office, so we regularly work with the finance teams in our other offices, like London and Johannesburg,” an associate explained. Here, the team tackles loan agreements, securities packages, project finance, M&A and acquisition finance, and due diligence, serving clients across the oil and gas, energy, infrastructure, transport, renewables, mining, and banking industries. “From a regional perspective, we also have a big focus on LatAm,” said a source.

Day-to-day, juniors are kept busy negotiating, drafting, and revising financing agreements and ancillary documents, as well as getting involved with due diligence on financing and M&A transactions.

Finance clients: Toesca Infraestructura II Fondo de Inversión, Puerto Antioquia Project. Advised Toesca Infraestructura on the acquisition and project financing of a solar PV facility in Chile.

“You’ll find people from so many different backgrounds, and many speak at least one other language!”

Diversity, Equity & Inclusion

The cross-border work done by the New York office isn’t the only indication of HSF’s wider global network. “The office is very international,” an associate explained. “You’ll find people from so many different backgrounds, and many speak at least one other language!” To support and celebrate inclusion, the office has a Multiculturalism Network, as well as the IRIS (Inclusion, Respecting Identity and Sexuality), GEM (Gender Equality Matters), and Mental Health Champions networks. There are also frequent lunches hosted by the firm's diversity committee which aim to facilitate conversations around different topics and initiatives.

As for diversity among the senior ranks, “We do have a few women partners, but as the office is quite small you’ll find there’s better representation firmwide,” a source told us. “Aside from the partner ratio, there are many women associates and women employees.”

“…doesn’t require me to be superhuman – just a dedicated human!”

Hours & Compensation

Billable hours: 2,100 target

Hit the 2,100 hour billable target and you’ve unlocked your market-rate bonus. This overall target includes 100 hours which associates can dedicate toward things like pro bono, and business development, learning & development, and knowledge management activities. Candidly, associates told us, “I don’t feel any pressure to meet the target. My workload is manageable and doesn’t require me to be superhuman – just a dedicated human!” In terms of billables, interviewees reported billing “around 45 hours a week, on average.”

For our sources, hitting the target often meant logging on around 9am and logging off around 9pm. “When you have an international client, it’s sometimes helpful to be up later than that too. It’s an aspect of doing cross-border work,” we heard. In terms of hybrid working arrangements, the general rule is associates have the flexibility to work from home one day a week, though it ultimately varies by department.

Pro Bono

Included in the 2,100 billable target is up to 100 hours of billable pro bono credit. Involvement is “only limited by your own time,” depending on the volume of deals associates are staffed on.As for what you can get stuck into, “It’s really a matter of what you want to do!” one associate told us. “I feel comfortable going up to our pro bono partner and saying, ‘Hey, I’m interested in this,’ and we’ll have a chat about it.”

Options readily available include immigration cases, and work for Sanctuary for Families, a New York-based nonprofit that aids victims of domestic violence, as well as Her Justice, another local nonprofit aiding women living in poverty. To get involved, “an email goes round listing pro bono matters that require assistance, like discrete research and filing tasks.”

Pro bono hours

  • For all US attorneys: undisclosed
  • Average per US attorney: undisclosed

Career Development

There are both formal and informal elements to career development at HSF. “We have a structured mentorship program,” one interviewee explained. “I have an associate mentor who answers all my dumb questions and all my good questions!” Juniors can opt to join this mentorship program which pairs them with either a senior associate, a counsel, or a partner. Alternatively, “By nature of our office size, it’s an environment where informal mentorship is fostered,” another added. “As you work with more senior people, you naturally find mentors who you can go to as your sounding board.”

As for the training aspect, there’s plenty to get involved in. “I was recently involved in a training for junior associates that was more business-oriented, like getting to know the firm and the various practices, as well as some professional development elements,” a source told us. This is part of the firm's global professional development program, which caters to attorneys at all levels – there's also one for those on the partnership track. In terms of knowledge-based training, “Just last week we had a conference where a lot of partners flew over from around the global network to give a talk about current issues in the banking sector,” an associate recalled. A similar conference was held on the topic of corporate crime & investigations.


And it’s not all work no play. The aforementioned conferences included “a coffee portion where attendees were able to network and socialize.” The firm also hosts monthly lunches for all the associates in the New York office to get together and chat, and “there are opportunities to meet socially outside of work. It’s always nice to know people see you as a person and not just a work product machine!” These come in the form of happy hours and firm events, which include rooftop gatherings, karaoke, and “a holiday party at the end of the year with activities like bowling and pool.” More informally, “We have happy hours at the Wheeltapper Pub nearby! It’s very underrated!” one associate told us.

Get Hired

The first stage: recruitment on and off campus

OCI applicants interviewed: 150

Herbert Smith Freehills recruits at nine schools across the US, though the majority are located in New York and the Northeast. These include Columbia, Cornell, NYU, and Georgetown. The firm also conducts resume collections at eight other schools, and accepts write-ins through its web portal.

Roughly 150 students are interviewed during OCIs, which are conducted by pairings of partners and associates from the firm. Each interview typically lasts 20 minutes. At this stage, candidates need to demonstrate their interest in HSF. “We want to see a solid transcript. We want to hear about the work the prospective associate did during their 1L summer and how well they can discuss the work/research they’ve done,” hiring partner Peter Behmke explains. And it’s not just about credentials. Behmke adds, “We are also looking for a fit with our culture and that of our clients, meaning an international mindset, commercial sense, and strong work ethic.”

Top tips for this stage:

“Know the firm. Know our practice areas. Be yourself.” – hiring partner Peter Behmke


Applicants invited to second stage interview: 40

Successful candidates receive an invitation to the second stage callback interviews within 48 hours of their OCI. The callback interviews usually take between two to three hours, and the candidate will meet with four attorneys (a mix of partners, senior associates, and junior associates). This stage is a chance to delve deeper into the topics discussed during the OCI, and allows the candidate to explain what they are looking for in a firm and why.

Top tips for this stage:

“HSF presents a unique opportunity to be part of a growing office of a major, internationally renowned firm in New York City, one of the largest markets for legal services. Our size, culture, and goals as an office distinguish us from our peer firms with more established offices in New York. We want to understand how the candidate sees themselves working and developing in that environment.” hiring partner Peter Behmke

Summer program

Offers: 16

Acceptances: 4

Summers typically work across the litigation and international arbitration groups, and are subsequently hired into these departments upon completion of the program. There are opportunities to be hired into the firm’s other practice groups, like corporate and finance, depending on the needs of the group and the summer’s interests. Depending on the group, the summer will work on legal research and memo writing, brief writing, assistance with depositions, court appearances, preparation and participation in client meetings, due diligence, transaction document writing, and participating in closing calls. Each summer is assigned a core matter where their work will generate from, as well as receive additional assignments, pro bono work, and ad hoc projects from other members of the firm. There’s also formal and informal training available, with a focus on fundamental lawyer skills, to help along the way.

And of course, a summer program wouldn’t be complete without the social events. As well as an abundance of lunches, dinners, and cocktail parties, summers may be in for baseball games, mixology experiences, escape rooms, karaoke night, cooking classes, bowling, an office-wide ping-pong tournament, and a Jeopardy showdown!

Top tips for this stage:

“Ask questions. Tell us your areas of interest. Take notes. Take ownership of your cases and projects. Be proactive.”hiring partner Peter Behmke

And finally…

“Make sure we know we are a top choice for you.”hiring partner Peter Behmke

Herbert Smith Freehills

450 Lexington Avenue,
14th Floor,
New York,
NY 10017
Website www.herbertsmithfreehills.com

Main areas of work
HSF is a Leading Global Law Firm Experienced in:
• Litigation
• Arbitration
• Contentious Regulatory Work
• M&A
• Private Equity
• Capital Markets
• Infrastructure & Banking
• Finance

Our Nine Priority Sectors are:
• Banks
• Consumer
• Energy
• Infrastructure & Transport
• Manufacturing and Industrials
• Mining
• Pharmaceuticals & Healthcare
• Real Estate
• Technology, Media & Entertainment and Telecommunications

Firm profile
By joining Herbert Smith Freehills, you will become an integral part of one of the world’s leading legal practices. The opportunity for junior lawyers in our New York office is unique. The office emphasizes lean staffing on matters, which means more exposure to clients, partners and substantive work. With the resources, client base and matter portfolio of an elite global law firm, our associates develop their professional skills and relationships on an accelerated track from the very beginning of their careers.

• Boston University School of Law
• Boston College Law School
• Columbia Law School
• Cornell Law School
• Fordham University School of Law
• Georgetown University Law Center
• New York University School of Law
• The University of Chicago Law School
• The University of Penn Carey Law School
• Washington University in St. Louis School of Law

Recruitment outside OCIs:
Please submit applications via our online application portal on our HSF NY website beginning June 1st for the upcoming OCI cycle. We require a resume and most recent law school transcript.

Summer associate profile:
Due to the complexity of our work, we seek candidates with the passion and ambition to be exceptional at what they do. We seek candidates who want to be part of a team advising some of the largest and most respected organizations across the globe on their most critical transactions, disputes and projects. Our ideal candidate is confident, perceptive, ambitious and empathetic.

Summer program components:
Our aim is to treat summer associates as part of the team, working on real cases for real clients. Depending on the practice group, work assignments will include legal research and memo writing, assistance with depositions, court appearances, preparation and participation in client meetings, due diligence, transaction document drafting, and participating in closing calls. Each summer associate is assigned a core matter and will have the most work generated from their core matter.

Social media: The NY office only has a website for it’s summer program.
The firm has a Linkedin page (https://www.linkedin.com/company/herbert-smith-freehills/)
Recruitment website: https://careers.herbertsmithfreehills.com/us/summer-program/

This Firm's Rankings in
USA Guide, 2023

Ranked Departments

    • International Arbitration: The Elite (Band 3)
    • Product Liability: Tobacco (Band 1)