Herbert Smith Freehills - The Inside View

This international giant brings British and Australian roots to the Land of the Free(hills), offering associates a more intimate introduction to BigLaw.

“In a lot of ways, it’s like a boutique, but with all the benefits of a big firm,” one associate reeled off when asked about the perks of life at Herbert Smith Freehills. While HSF boasts an international network of 24 offices and over 2,600 lawyers, its singular stateside office is comparatively cozy. This meant that associates working in the New York base aren’t lost in the crowd, but get to join a team of just over 40 lawyers. Despite its small headcount however, the New York base is certainly not drowned out by other, bigger offices in the HSF network. For example, the firm is investing in its physical office space, moving from 450 Lexington Avenue to the MetLife building, which is “300 feet away, and we’ll all be combined on one big floor. We’re moving in May and it looks like it’ll have a much more modern feel than our current space, with plenty of amenities, like a gym and a spa!” 

“…like a boutique, but with all the benefits of a big firm.” 

However, while the smaller office may provide a greater sense of pastoral support, the massive global network, resources and multijurisdictional expertise create a solid base for associates at HSF. And that’s not all, the firm earns dozens of top-tier rankings from Chambers Global  in practices across Europe, Asia-Pacific and Africa, with additional recognition in the Americas as well. In fact, the US office has entered the guide’s elite rankings for international arbitration, and earns a top-notch tobacco-specific product liability ranking from the Chambers USA guide. The New York office is also home to the firm’s Latin American practice, and many of its lawyers are qualified in multiple jurisdictions. This was attractive to our interviewees, one of whom shared that “a massive draw for me was the fact that we have a dedicated Latin American team, so there are lawyers here who are not just interested in the area, but come from there.”  

The Work 

Upon completion of the summer program, newbies join the firm as generalists and can sample a variety of matters across disputes and finance before eventually specializing. As lawyers in the New York office work primarily in disputes, juniors will likely find themselves taking on a smaller number of finance matters, but are nevertheless encouraged to seek out work they enjoy before naturally settling into a group. When it comes to work assignment, associates explained that they find work through formal structures and day-to-day networking. “In litigation, you send your capacity to a coordinator who works with partners, so you get slotted onto matters if you’ve got availability,” an associate explained. Meanwhile, in finance, “senior associates usually ask me to help out and guide me through matters, but I can tell them when there’s something specific I’d like to try.” 

Product liability and international arbitration are some of the main facets of the US outfit’s contentious output, the latter of which includes commercial and investor-state arbitration. “Our biggest clients are oil and gas companies, but we also do some natural resources, infrastructure, mining and construction work,” a junior arbitrator explained. The group is small, so greener associates can expect to get plenty of responsibility, especially considering that “the team is quite busy right now, so there’s a lot that needs to be done!” For example, newbies can get involved in depositions and draft pleadings, briefs and memos. Travel is part of the job for many – after all, international is in the name of the group – and arbitrators can flex their language skills, especially since so much Latin American work flows through the office. One source particularly enjoyed working with experts on matters as “it’s interesting to see how they’re viewing your issues from a technical perspective, and just how much that influences the case. Sometimes the case is decided on the facts, so the experts become super important.” However, despite juniors getting thrown in the deep end, they don’t just skip over junior tasks. “It’s what you need to gain experience and learn the fundamentals,” an interviewee explained, “I’ve had my fair share of doc review, site checking and legal research.” 

International arbitration clients: The Republic of Italy, Chevron Corporation, Andes Petroleum Ecuador. Representing Sigma Constructores in a triple enforcement bid against the Republic of Guatemala to claim at least $60 million it won against the country in previous arbitrations.   

“I’ve done deals with Argentina, Chile, Mexico, and assisted lawyers in the UK and Australia on the US aspects of their matters.” 

The finance group mostly works on project finance, with some additional corporate financing matters and support work for HSF’s other offices. Once again, there are plenty of matters with clients in and around Latin America, but much of the work is cross-border, according to interviewees: “I’ve done deals with Argentina, Chile, Mexico, and assisted lawyers in the UK and Australia on the US aspects of their matters.” The team works on both the lender and borrower sides of transactions with a range of clients, including banks, international financial institutions and corporate entities. Juniors naturally start with tasks such as managing workstreams and keeping track of checklists. However, there are chances for newer associates to take ownership of portions of transactions, such as drafting legal opinions and various provisions. “I get experience of a whole transaction so I can really get a sense of what’s going on,” an interviewee explained: “The matters are interesting, complex and create difficult scenarios where we have to wrack our brains for quick solutions.” Sources particularly enjoyed the international aspects of the job, appreciating the trust from senior members of the team when allowing juniors to interact with Latin American counsel and clients. This meant that one interviewee learned how to “bridge the gap between what US financiers are trying to do with the realities of emerging markets in other jurisdictions.” 

Finance clients: Toesca Infraestructura II Fondo de Inversión, Mercuria Energy Trading, China Development Bank. Advised the International Finance Corporation - a member of the World Bank - on its sustainability-focused $130 million financing of Allkem, a lithium chemical company, to support its construction of a lithium plant in Argentina.  

Diversity, Equity & Inclusion 

With so much international work flowing through HSF’s New York base, it naturally follows that the office enjoys plenty of cultural diversity. In particular, as one interviewee highlighted, “there are a lot of international lawyers that come from different parts of Latin America.” More generally, we heard that there was greater diverse representation among the junior ranks than at the partner level, but interviewees were satisfied at the firm’s efforts to improve. Interestingly, sources also highlighted the firm’s UK roots as another factor affecting general attitudes towards DEI, with one junior pointing to “a lot of effort at the top for transparency and accountability. Thanks to being based out of the UK, we get a gender pay gap report and the firm takes it upon itself to break it down in more detail.” There are also a number of global and local diversity-focused programs and events, centered around commemoration days and periods such as Juneteenth, Pride Month, Women's History Month and Black History Month.

Pro Bono 

Pro bono – which often tends to be more contentious than transactional – fits in well with the office’s heavy disputes focus. As such, sources had taken on a range of matters (litigious or otherwise) and expressed how “it’s a good opportunity to work with people outside of my practice group. I’ve done pro bono work with a partner I’ve never worked with before, but I also get to take charge on my matters and have more autonomy.” One source highlighted HSF’s partnership with Her Justice, an organization which provides legal aid to low-income women in New York. HSF lawyers can also help high school students in New Jersey learn about the legal profession, with mock trials and feedback on resumes.  Immigration and asylum matters regularly crop up thanks to the firm's work with Sanctuary for Families, and interviewees explained how these matters can range from initial green card applications and trials to assisting asylees with filings further down the line. “Partners think it’s a good thing and have encouraged me to take it on if I have the time,” said one interviewee, “and the firm encourages people with their own interests to bring matters to the pro bono partner.” And, to further encourage pro bono engagement, associates can put up to 100 hours of it towards their billable target. 

Pro bono hours 

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

Hours & Compensation 

Billable hours: 2,100 target 

To sum it up, at least 2,000 out of 2,100 hours must come from billable matters, while pro bono and business hours count towards the final 100 hours of the target. This means that associates can bill time spent in team meetings, working on business development and participating in recruitment. What’s more, an insider shared how “when there are extenuating circumstances, such as study leave or extended sick leave, your target gets prorated. It’s good knowing that the number can be moved in your favor when things happen.” Interviewees generally found the target manageable, especially once they’d settled into life at the firm. Interestingly, one associate noted: “I don’t think anybody is super concerned about the target because we’re really busy. Globally, the downturn has been in corporate work but we do more disputes work in New York, so there’s definitely enough work if you’re looking for it.” Hitting this 2,100 target unlocks the bonus which, like the salary, is completely in line with the market rate. 

Associates described how hours tend to be cyclical, with busier and slower periods depending on the stage of a matter. Collaboration across time zones can also have an effect on working hours, but interviewees agreed that a standard day might see them working from 9am to 8pm. “That’s the BigLaw atmosphere,” said one, “I go through months where I log off at 8 or 9pm and go home, but others where I’m working past midnight every night.” Considering how small the office is, sources appreciated how “everybody’s aware of how busy everyone else is,” especially since partners are looped into weekly updates on how effectively associates use their time. However, despite the inconsistent schedule that comes with a BigLaw job, associates can enjoy some consistency with hybrid working, as the firm asks its lawyers to be in the office four out of five days of the week.


Interviewees agreed that HSF’s New York office is “tight-knit” and, with so few attorneys working at the New York branch, emphasized how it’s the kind of place where “you can chat with every single person in the office at holiday parties and events!” Despite its diminutive size – “we basically all fit into one boardroom,” a source quipped – attorneys still get to interact with people from different backgrounds. As one junior explained: “I get to interact with people from so many different cultures, which makes it a dynamic environment with lots of perspectives.” We heard this approach extended firmwide, with juniors relishing the chance to be part of “an accessible network where people are open to you reaching out for a conversation. It’s nice being working with people from Australia, Germany, Italy, France, Spain and the UK!” The NYC base also has its fair share of office-specific interaction, including summer associate events and a reportedly well-attended associates’ lunches every month. 

“I think we try to be a more relaxed firm in terms of respecting holidays and creating balance for associates, which I’d say feels more European than New York!” 

More generally, however, interviewees described it as a place where “you never get an email from a partner you’ve never heard of asking you to do work on a Saturday, or at 10pm on a Thursday night from a random associate you’ve never met.” Some attributed this to the firm’s British background, noting how “most members of senior leadership for the global firm are based out of the UK, so there’s a downward seep of that culture. I think we try to be a more relaxed firm in terms of respecting holidays and creating balance for associates, which I’d say feels more European than New York!” However, we heard the office still has its own New York feel as almost all the partners are “New York born and bred,” giving the culture an almost transatlantic blend! 

Career Development 

Thanks to HSF’s firmwide Business Services Academy training program, juniors can also get to know their peers and colleagues from across the globe. These programs see associates across offices join sessions on how to be a good lawyer. For instance, newbies get the lowdown on how to grow and build a career at the firm while focusing on business development. The New York office also holds its own sessions on areas of the law or specific topics such as discovery and expert witnesses: “There are plenty of opportunities,” said one interviewee, “you just have to make sure you’re signing up for them!” Mentors help juniors during their progression at the firm, but the firm also hosts path to partnership meetings every two to three years for those looking to make long-term plans. While sources suggested that it may be too early to start the journey from year one, they were reassured by the fact that specific guidance would come in time. “I understand that there’s more communication from the top when you’re in your third or fourth year,” an associate explained, “they’ll let you know if you’re on track and you may get sent to London a bit more often. The New York office is steadily trying to grow, so the path will become clearer in time.” 

Strategy & Future 

“The powers that be are really focused on the US market,” said an associate when asked about the firm’s trajectory, “the CEO comes to the office at least once a year to give us updates on the firm’s status and strategy.” Associates can also get the lowdown on the firm’s finances at monthly fee earners’ meetings, which are open to all attorneys at the firm.  So, juniors were excited about the growth opportunities too: “It seems like we’re going to keep doing what we’re doing! We have long-term clients from other offices with work here, and we’re also providing services to clients who are looking to get into the US market themselves.” Specifically, sources mentioned that the first stage of the growth strategy is to build out New York’s transactional practice to match its strong litigation presence. This is underpinned by HSF’s firmwide Ambition 2025 framework, which outlines the firm’s goals for the year, including pledges to continue to strengthen its global capabilities while making use of advancements in technology. Case in point: the firm hosted a series of online discussions and trainings last year, focusing on various areas of emerging tech (such as AI, crypto and the metaverse) and the legal and regulatory risks that come with them. Adding to this, the firm recently introduced its Digital Legal Delivery practice, which will merge HSF’s technology practices and services from offices across the globe. 

Get Hired

The first stage: recruitment on and off campus 

OCI applicants interviewed: 145 

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 145 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: 35 

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: 17 


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

Exchange House,
Primrose Street,
Website www.herbertsmithfreehills.com

450 Lexington Avenue,
New York,

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)