Irell is a leading light for litigation in the Golden State
FEW firms have a more appropriate home address. Located on 1800 Avenue of the Stars, Los Angeles' Irell & Manella cut its teeth in the Golden Age of Hollywood and still advises entertainment giants like Disney and Warner Bros today. That's just the opening credits: the firm's top-ranked on both a nationwide and state-wide level for IP, but also picks up other California-based Chambers USA rankings for capabilities in tax, general commercial litigation, media and entertainment, life sciences and securities disputes. Irell's also renowned for its tech clients, which include Tesla and Uber.
“I thought the firm was like a Skadden or a Gibson in terms of the work quality and clients,” a junior told us. Irell may lack the physical global coverage of those titans (it operates only from its Century City HQ and the sunny shores of Newport Beach), but the benefit to keeping operations small is “early responsibility for associates; the firm has a reputation for attracting really bright people.”
With only a handful of Irell's juniors joining corporate, the vast majority work in its broad litigation practice. “You really can pick and choose both the cases you want to work on and the partners you want to work with,” associates agreed, and all we spoke to had dabbled in various areas at first. Some found this free market approach “a bit intimidating in the beginning, as it can be hard to control the type of work you do,” but noted that “once you're not brand new you can focus more on specific things instead of saying yes to everything.”
IP is a big chunk of the litigious practice and unlike other firms Irell doesn't require associates to have a technical background or science degree. Patent litigators explained “there are times I have my limits but the legal issues in IP are what makes it fascinating. The cases tend to be bigger in scale compared to the other litigation we do here.” Silicon Valley clients are all over the firm's books, but Irell represents all sorts of companies, be they biotechnology pioneers or toy manufacturers. “When I was a very junior associate I did a lot of research and drafting,” a source outlined, “but going into second and third year I got involved with briefing, working on expert reports and handling trial witness outlines.” Similar stories of steep learning curves popped up again and again in our interviews, with associates finding that the rate of progression “made me a better attorney very quickly.”
IP clients: T-Mobile, Skechers and NantKwest. Recently fought Intel to secure a pre-trial settlement on behalf of Future Link Systems during a $10 billion dispute covering 17 patents.
“Some people need to be brought along slowly, but those who come to Irell are the ones who can handle it.”
There's “a whole slew of different cases” if patents aren't your bag – our interviewees had dipped into insurance fraud, white-collar investigations, securities cases and commercial breach of contract work. The common thread through it all was that “Irell wants us to get a variety of responsibility. They'll ask you to do things not when you think you're ready, but when they think you are.” Getting thrust head-first into court appearances, substantive motion drafting and taking depositions suited the tastes of many. One such bold soul suggested that “some people need to be brought along slowly, but those who come to Irell are the ones who can handle it,” with the ‘it' being “taking witness statements at trial within 18 months of joining.” A colleague revealed they'd done “less than 70 hours of document review in the first two years” – a number sure to make juniors at many larger firms envious.
Litigation clients: Uber, Disney and CBS. Represented Universal Pictures and Legendary Entertainment in a class-action suit alleging that texts marketing the Warcraft movie violated the Telephone Consumer Protection Act.
That's not all, folks: it's worth pointing out that Irell also does transactional work that spans M&A, private equity, IP, tax, debt finance, public offerings and real estate.
A robust pro bono practice comes complete with “a one-to-one policy for pro bono hours counting as billable. Of course they'd like you to balance it with paid work but the firm constantly circulates great opportunities.” Interviewees took projects for various reasons, from topping up their hours to having a passion about a particular case. “We do a lot of asylum matters with moving stories attached,” sources highlighted, adding: “Especially in today's political climate they feel so important.” The pro bono panoply spans domestic violence, copyright law, contractor fraud and veterans' issues. Ultimately “you can do whatever you want as long as you can find someone to supervise you. Certainly there are times when other cases get busy and it can be difficult to juggle.”
Pro bono hours
- For all attorneys across all US offices: 6,821
- Average per US attorney: 79
Hours & Compensation
With pro bono in the mix, associates found the 2,000-hour bonus target “very doable, especially given how busy we are. Right now nobody's close to missing out.” There is nonetheless a bit of leeway for hard workers who just miss the threshold. “Irell is very flexible in terms of when and where you want to get work done” too, so most interviewees preferred to set off home by 6.30pm and complete anything outstanding after dinner. “A late night would be anything past 10pm,” one said, “you have to be prepared to work long hours given how much money we make, but it's also important to be conscious of balancing your family life and work. That's completely doable here.”
“Irell is very flexible in terms of when and where you want to get work done.”
The firm was one of the first in California to meet the Milbank-led salary increase in 2018, and Irell insiders were happy with the response. “The only delay was because they wanted to announce it at the summer retreat,” they laughed, “everyone was confident we'd maintain our position at the top of the pay scale.” You betcha – Irell pays associate bonuses at one-and-a-half times the rate set by firms like Milbank and Cravath.
It seems that most attorneys would make Santa's 'nice list' cut: “People here are very aware of what's going on with your family and personal milestones. We hang out at happy hours because everyone's so friendly and approachable.” Size matters in the law and “because Irell is smaller, it's more cohesive and we all see each other face-to-face.” Other sources posited that “rather than having one generalized broad culture,” Irell’s more intimate atmosphere is markedly shaped by “individuals' personalities.” So what sort of personalities does Irell attract? The firm's earned a reputation for intellectualism but “it's not just a bunch of nerds talking about law all the time. You'll hear friends joking about sports, politics and movies.” Newport Beach only houses a handful of attorneys, so the tight-knit feeling is even stronger there.
“There are a lot of social events, and while not everyone participates, many do,” most associates agreed. However, some found that having fewer colleagues meant that “Irell can feel more introverted than other firms – it can feel a little isolated.” Sources uniformly pointed to the summer as a particularly gregarious period, though, which is encouraged by “generous” budgets that are allocated to taking summer associates out. “Some people like to be really social and get involved in happy hours and watching Monday night football, but there are also people here who only really want to work,” one junior summarized. “There's a real spread because each individual can have a preference.”
Two days of orientation training are “just the start of tons of training available all the time,” and associates were quick to applaud the firm's mock deposition program in particular. However, “not every session is immediately helpful because sometimes you don't really know how to do things until you try them out,” some argued. There was also mixed feedback on the feedback given to associates: “I wish I got more constructive criticism, though it's nice not to get negative reviews!”
Interviewees were at least on the same page about future career prospects, as “you make partner here quicker than at other firms and we make internal partners every year.” Lack of interest in that path didn't preclude associates from using the firm's resources. “There are lots of alumni events to attend and get contact info related to other things you can do with your career,” and options “run the gamut from government positions to joining non-profit groups.”
“You'll be appearing in court earlier than at many places, so we put a lot of value on finding people we feel can be the face of the firm.” Click on the 'Bonus Features' tab above to find out more about recruitment at Irell.
Diversity & Inclusion
Irell has rejigged its interview structure to account for implicit bias, and therefore asks every interviewee a certain number of the same questions. In addition, sources were positive about the firm’s approach to new mothers: Irell has a 'We Care' room where mothers can nurse children privately, and recently a senior associate made partner while out on maternity leave. “There's only one level of equity partnership,” a female junior pointed out, “so they can't promote women to partnership without letting them in on decision-making.”
Strategy & Future
“Quality” is the firm's focus according to newly-appointed managing partner David Gindler, who insists “being at a relatively smaller size also means that young lawyers can develop at a faster rate while having significant early responsibility on matters of substantial importance. There's nowhere for them to hide!” Associates said “it seems our focus will be increasing our visibility to law students across the country, who might be a great fit for Irell and not know it.” Gindler concludes that “new offices are certainly possible but not in our current plans.” For the full interview, click on the 'Bonus Features' tab above.
The first stage: recruitment on and off campus
OCI applicants interviewed: undisclosed
Interviewees outside OCI: undisclosed
Irell does the majority of its recruitment through OCIs – the firm visits different schools each year but Berkeley, Chicago, Columbia, Harvard, Michigan, Northwestern, NYU, Stanford, UCI, UCLA, USC and Yale are always on the list. Candidates can also apply by sending in a resume, and the firm hits three job fairs too: LA On Tour, Loyola University of Chicago Patent Law Interview Program and the Penn Regional Interview Program.
Where possible, alumni from the school conduct interviews there. They're looking for “communication skills, leadership qualities, initiative and creativity” on top of the standard academic credentials. The questions posed during the interview will be focused on drawing these out. Irell also recommends interviewees have their own questions to ask.
Top tips for this stage:
“We always ask some kind of legal question – maybe based on your favorite class or something on your resume – as we want to see candidates engage in substantive legal discussions, though you don't have to memorize rules.”
“Because we're a smaller firm it's important that recruits bring a new perspective and will practice law with integrity. We appear before the court early in our careers so we need someone who can be the face of the firm.”
Applicants invited to second stage: undisclosed
Once they've reached this stage, interviewees can expect to speak with at least three partners and several hiring committee members as part of their callback interview. Whether they're at a morning or an afternoon session, they'll get a meal (lunch or dinner). Successful candidates are invited back to get to know Irell better before summer.
How to impress here? There aren't real differences to the OCI – it's all about candidate and firm getting to know one another better. By this point you'll have a pretty good idea of the work Irell does and the character of the firm, so should definitely have some of your own questions at the ready.
Top tips for this stage:
“One initiative the firm's taken is structuring callbacks more effectively to remove implicit bias. We'll ask standard questions in various areas to seek out qualities like leadership and creativity.”
“I talk to a lot of people who don't know how to sell their resume. Focus on what demonstrates creative thinking and leadership skills.”
Matching faces to names is one of the key roles of Irell's summer program – attendees are encouraged to work with as many attorneys as possible to see everything from corporate closings to depositions and trials. Day to day work is complemented by formal programs with exciting titles like 'Legends of the Firm' and 'Trademark Year in Review.' Pro bono is another key aspect of the summer – adoption proceedings are one of the most common options.
Weekend retreats and dinners are a means for attorneys to get to know summers. Successful candidates will be those who've thrown themselves into everything, and in doing so have shown off their professionalism, ability and judgment.
Notable events: beach parties, karaoke, rock climbing, cooking classes, grilled cheese and beer tastings.
Top tips for this stage:
“We have an unbelievable support staff who are always willing to help and make sure you use all the resources available.”
“A huge advantage of summering at a smaller firm is that when you come back, attorneys you've made connections with will inevitably be your mentors.”
Irell's summer program includes the chance to get involved in a mock wrongful death trial, which is overseen by a retired federal judge.
Interview with managing partner David Gindler
Chambers Associate: How would you describe Irell's current position in the legal market?
David Gindler: We're an elite firm with a national practice that's big enough to handle the largest, most complex matters, but small enough to maintain a collegial, cohesive culture, selective standards and excellence at every level.We focus on practice areas in which we know we can truly excel and aim to hire and nurture the very best lawyers. This approach has allowed us to maintain our position as a leading firm across several practice areas. While we’re certainly best known for IP litigation, we’re also sought after for commercial litigation, life sciences, private equity, media and entertainment, white collar and investigations, securities and bankruptcy. Our focus is on achieving extraordinary outcomes in our clients’ most challenging legal matters.
CA: Which practices have been performing especially well recently?
DG: IP has continued to perform well. We had major trial victories for IP clients including a $400 million verdict for KAIST in a patent litigation against Samsung. We also secured a defense verdict for Juniper Networks. In addition to IP litigation, we have also developed more of an IP strategy practice over the last few years as the market has evolved, where we advise clients much earlier in the process. That may end with a large IP transaction or litigation but the underlying strategic advice was what led to a lot of successes in the last year. Within that sphere, the life sciences and semiconductor and electronic devices practices have been strongest.
M&A has also been very strong: we represent multiple private equity clients like Genstar and Beach Point with billions of dollars of assets to manage. We've done billions of dollars worth of work in M&A. In entertainment, we had successes for clients including Warner Bros. Entertainment, United Talent Agency and the Anaheim Ducks.
CA: We've heard from associates that the firm is aiming to attract applicants who might not know about its work – how do you plan to achieve that?
DG: I'd put it a different way: we've always focused on finding the highest quality lawyers both at associate and partner level and will continue to do so. We also care about reaching a diverse candidate pool and making sure we’re successfully marketing to recruits what makes us special. Our priority has been to hire the most exceptional, creative attorneys that fit within our culture. The rest tends to fall into place. Irell is an entrepreneurial firm made up of people that have built practices themselves. When we focus on hiring the very best, we know that the practice will follow.
For example, recently we've really invigorated our global investigations/white collar practice not because we've put top-down focus on it but because Jason Linder, former senior prosecutor in the US DOJ, became available to us. He's a former Irell associate who went into government, handled important matters and wanted to return to the firm. Having one of the highest quality lawyers in a practice area means we'll put more focus on that. We have also recently hired another lateral partner, Alex Romain, who handles high-stakes complex commercial litigation and investigations.
CA: Looking forward, do you see the firm opening new offices, either domestically or overseas?
DG: It's certainly possible but it’s not in our current plans. Our current platform, with two offices, allows us to maintain our unique culture, which is one of the key reasons Irell has thrived over the years (most of our partners are homegrown). Being at a relatively smaller size also means that young lawyers can develop at a faster rate while having significant early responsibility on matters of substantial importance. There's nowhere for them to hide! From day one we train associates to be innovative and help clients solve their problems.
We do aim to grow to some extent. Our intellectual property practice will continue to expand. But I also expect to see growth in several other key practice areas, such as complex commercial litigation, global investigations/white collar and corporate transactions. Our 77-year old culture of excellence and collegiality provides an amazing platform for the nations most talented lawyers to thrive in their practices.
CA: What are the main challenges that law firms and their lawyers will have to navigate or adapt to in the future?
DG: There's a few things both on the client and practice side. Something firms have to adapt to is the changing ways in which attorneys approach the practice. Tech enables people to work remotely and do things more efficiently in certain ways, things that used to be hour intensive no longer are. To provide value for clients, attorneys must use tech very efficiently and leverage the tools available. Value add to client comes from getting to understand them, and sometimes that means working out their goals for them. It's all about application of existing or new law to their problems and letting the more generic work be handled more efficiently through tech or outsourcing. To excel as an attorney, try hard to align with the client's goals and find out what they need – and focus on where you can provide most value and insight
Internally it's essential we make sure the way our firm is set up enables lawyers to bring their skills to bear in the most efficient ways. That means they're not just in a dark room reviewing documents, they can be working remotely or embedded within client teams. There's a lot of innovation to be made in future.
Irell & Manella LLP
1800 Avenue of the Stars,
- Head Office: Los Angeles, CA
- Number of domestic offices: 2
- Number of international offices: 0
- Partners (US): 48
- Associates (US): 51
- Main recruitment contact: Alanna Cowan (email@example.com)
- Hiring partner: Keith Orso
- Diversity officer: Kyle Kawakami
- Recruitment details
- Entry-level associates starting in 2019: 13
- Clerking policy: Yes
- Summers joining/anticipated 2019:
- 2Ls: 14
- Summers joining/anticipated 2019 split by office:
- Los Angeles: 12
- Newport Beach: 2
- Summer salary 2019:
- 1Ls: $3,654 2Ls: $3,654
- Split summers offered? Yes
Main areas of work
Antitrust, appellate, art, bankruptcy reorganization and creditors’ rights, class action defense, cyber liability and privacy, debt finance, entertainment litigation, insurance, IP litigation, IP transactions, litigation, media and entertainment transactions, mergers and acquisitions, copyright and trademark, private equity and venture capital, professional liability defense, public offerings and private placements, securities law and corporate governance, securities litigation, tax, white collar and investigations, patent office trials, patent portfolio management.
Irell & Manella is a full service law firm with offices in Los Angeles and Newport Beach, California. Our unique practice and culture offer opportunities for talented law graduates to excel early in their careers. The quality of our work and the flexibility of our organization attract associates with the highest qualifications. Irell’s preeminent reputation brings clients to us from around the country and abroad and allows us to concentrate our physical presence in a single metropolitan area ensuring firm cohesion and a minimum of bureaucracy.
Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2019:
Law Schools: Berkeley, University of Chicago, Columbia, Harvard, Michigan, Northwestern, NYU, Stanford, UCLA, UC Irvine, USC, Yale.
Recruitment outside OCIs:
Job Fairs & Interview Programs:
Loyola University Chicago Patent Law Interview Program, Los Angeles On Tour Interview Program (Otip), Penn Regional Interview Program.
Cornell, Chapman, Duke, Georgetown, George Washington, Howard, Loyola (Los Angeles), Notre Dame, Pepperdine, Southwestern, Texas, University of Pennsylvania, UVA, Vanderbilt and Wisconsin.
Summer associate profile:
We recruit law students from the top law schools who excel academically. Consideration is given to participation in law school activities, undergraduate record, previous work experience, references and other factors. We look for individuals who are motivated, creative, show leadership, have a strong work ethic and are serious about being a lawyer.
Summer program components:
Our summer program is designed to allow summer associates to explore the various areas of our practice. Summer associates have the opportunity to participate in a mock wrongful death trial that is tried to a jury and presided over by a judge. Each summer associate is assigned a mentor and a work coordinator. Feedback is provided on each project by the assigning attorney and each summer associate has a mid-summer review to deliver additional feedback about his or her progress.
Recruitment website: www.irell.com
This Firm's Rankings in
USA Guide, 2019
- Intellectual Property (Band 1)
- Life Sciences (Band 3)
- Litigation: General Commercial (Band 5)
- Litigation: Securities (Band 2)
- Media & Entertainment: Litigation (Band 2)
- Tax (Band 3)
USA - Nationwide
- Intellectual Property (Band 2)