Irell & Manella LLP - The Inside View

Top-notch IP expertise and a quirky culture are on offer at this LA-headquartered firm.

We'll let you in on a little secret: when it comes to culture, BigLaw firms can be pretty samey. Sure, they'll have the standard annual summer and holiday parties, a drinks trolley doing the rounds on a Thursday, and jeans Fridays, but any meaningful differences are few and far between.  Then there's Irell & Manella. “It’s very quirky here because we’re all nerds,” our interviewees proudly agreed. However, “nobody is a nerd in the same way,” they hastily add. Just what types of nerd you can expect to encounter we’ll come to later, but for now just know that “one of the partners has an original Darth Vader mask. He positions it behind his laptop so it stares at you when he’s in depositions...”

“It’s very quirky here because we’re all nerds here.”

As we all know, being nerdy is high-school speak for being brilliantly intelligent, a quality that tends to be useful in the complex world of patent litigation. Chambers USA holds Irell’s IP team in very high regard, both in California and nationwide. The firm’s general commercial, securities, and life sciences departments are also favorably ranked. Attorneys at Irell get to see both sides of disputes. As well as defense, “we often serve as plaintiff-side counsel against all the major tech companies, which can lead to all sorts of exciting trials and verdicts."

Irell is also considerably smaller than most BigLaw firms, with just 65 attorneys in LA and Newport Beach. The two offices are “completely in sync,” one associate told us, adding “any line of demarcation between the two has been completely smashed by the pandemic.” Our interviewees also reasoned that being a smaller outfit, Irell was “much less bureaucratic than most firms.” They were attracted by the promise of having “substantive responsibility early on.”

Strategy & Future

Following “a strategic decision to focus on high-stakes IP and commercial litigation work,” one associate explained, the firm has downsized its transactional practice. One source approximated that “around 90% of the work I do is litigious.” But our interviewees were optimistic about the firm’s future: “The pandemic hasn’t slowed us down at all,” one junior was adamant. “There’s been a tremendous amount of work and we’ve received two bonuses during the pandemic.” Alright for some!

“As a junior, you often have full responsibility over a single patent in a case.”

The Work

Nearly all juniors join the firm’s broad litigation practice, and with a free-market system for getting work, they can mix and match the type of cases they do. “There are some patent-specific partners, but in my experience the lines between the groups aren’t important,” one source said. Many of our interviewees had worked on a broad mix of IP and commercial litigation cases covering a range of sectors. As summarized by one junior: “I’ve had the chance to work with large apparel companies, production companies, computer scientists, banks, directors, and doctors in the medical space.”

About half of the associates on our list were focused on IP litigation. As well as patent litigation, the firm’s practice handles trademark, copyright, trade secrets, and antitrust work too. The group litigates patents from a range of technology disciplines including software, semiconductors, biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, medical products, telecommunications, video games, and e-commerce. “As a junior, you often havefull responsibility over a single patent in a case,” one source explained, adding that “compared to general commercial litigation, a lot of the cases go to trial, which means you often get to take depositions with experts.” There are plenty of opportunities for associates to brush up on their drafting, too. As one source told us: “On one case, I did the first round of drafting everything including claim charges, answers to counterclaims, and deposition outlines. I was reporting directly to a fifth-year associate and a partner who would make the edits and revisions.”

"It’s intellectually tricky but also kind of a rush!”

IP clients: Juno Therapeutics; Immersion; VLSI Technology; Skechers. Represented Glaukos Corporation in a major patent infringement action against Ivantis Corporation.

Outside of IP, there’s plenty of commercial, securities, and media litigation cases up for grabs, as well as white-collar and class-action defense work. For one junior, antitrust cases were a particular highlight:“They feel very high-stakes because antitrust liability can come with huge damages. It’s intellectually tricky but also kind of a rush!” Most juniors we spoke to had experience doing doc review, but our interviewees also had experience of conducting research, talking strategy and drafting briefs.

Litigation clients: Uber, TCF Bank. Irell secured a dismissal with prejudice at the pleading stage of a securities fraud class action filed against Uber seeking billions of dollars in damages.

Hours and Compensation

Billable hours: 2,000 target

Irell pays a market-rate salary as well as pretty juicy bonuses, which one junior estimated put their overall compensation “higher than the market rate.” No surprises then that our survey participants gave the firm top marks for bonus satisfaction. To get this coveted prize, associates are expected to meet the billing target of 2,000 hours, a target in line with most other firms. However, while sources pointed out that “there is no incentive to go over 2,000 hours,” many of interviewees had billed significantly more. As one junior explained: “In a typical month, I’m billing between 170 and 230 hours, for a yearly total of around 2,300. That’s at the higher end but that’s largely my choice for jumping at every opportunity I have seen.” Similarly, another associate disclosed billing between 2,100 and 2,500 hours in their first few years with the firm.

The technical nature of the work adds to its demands in more ways than one, reasoned one interviewee: “Because a lot of the work is so technical,  if someone were to come in and take over your work, it would take them 30 hours to get up to speed at a huge cost for the client – it can be challenging in that respect.”

“I know the firm is very proud of its record on pro bono. I have been happy to see the thoughtful messaging from the top about our role in social justice in the world.”

Pro Bono

To help reach the 2,000 hours mark, associates can bill an unlimited number of pro bono hours. Irell partners with a number of organizations including Lamba Legal, Kids In Need of Defense, American Civil Liberties Union, AMVETS Legal Clinic, Natural Resources Defense Council, and the Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project. Our research shows that the firm falls in the 82nd percentile of firms by the average number of pro bono hours completed by its attorneys. “I know the firm is very proud of its record on pro bono," one source told us, adding that "I have been happy to see the thoughtful messaging from the top about our role in social justice in the world.” We spoke to juniors who has represented people in family court appeals, undocumented immigrants and even individuals before the Ninth Circuit.

Pro bono hours

  • For all (US) attorneys: 1,356.8
  • Average per (US) attorney: 20


Women make up less than 40% of Irell's associates. It's below the BigLaw average, but we should remember here that IP and tech firms frequently underperform in this regard, populated as they are with a lot of science grads, who are disproportionately male. Our interviewees were confident that the “firm is heading in the right direction,” and its female partner stats speak to that, having jumped up to 21% from 14% in the last year. In LA, one source highlighted that “there is a close-knit circle of female partners and associates.”

When it comes to racial diversity, the firm’s record is decidedly better. In fact, Irell boasts one of the highest percentages of ethnic minority partners of any firm recorded in our guide. However, one of our interviewees pointed out that “while the firm feels diverse, as a result of a large number of people leaving, we have also lost a couple of our prominent black partners. In a firm this small, when people do leave, it’s very noticeable.” At the recruitment level, Irell awards a $20,000 diversity scholarship to 2L students. 


So what kind of nerds can you expect to encounter at Irell? According to one associate, “there are people who collect custom-made boardgames; history nerds; people who have memorized statistics on every single football player in the league; golf nerds; and a Star Wars nerd. People have strange interests and are not shy about it.” Another source added: “There’s no expectation to conform to some type of BigLaw personality. We celebrate strangeness and individuality." In this vein, one source fondly remembered seeing a colleague bust out some "absurd" moves on the dance floor at a summer party.

“There’s no expectation to confirm to some type of BigLaw personality. We celebrate strangeness and individuality.”

Associates also appreciated the firm’s approach to flexible working. “They have always been super flexible about going to the office – partners don’t care if you leave before they do.” Another added: “One thing that has impressed me was the respect the firm has for big life events such as parental leave and holidays.” Our sources were also impressed by the firm’s handling of the transition to remote working. One source told us that "the firm has been sending out frozen pre-cooked meals to us; something that you can throw in the oven and feed the whole family with. It's the small things like that which make the work feel doable and make you feel seen.”

Career Development

Rapid career progression and good mentoring were prominent among the deciding factors why our interviewees chose Irell. The firm has a dedicated mentorship program where associates can talk about their future with partners. There’s also additional quarterly training for their first 18 months at the firm, which featured topics such as writing briefs and how to set out arguments, as well as a client development budget for associates to make use of. One associate told us: “I get the sense that some people go in-house, but not a lot of people leave to go to other firms.”

Get Hired

The first stage: recruitment on and off campus 

OCI applicants interviewed: undisclosed 

Interviewees outside OCI: undisclosed 

Irell does most 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.”– a 3rd-year associate 

“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.”– a 3rd-year associate 



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.”– a 3rd-year associate 

“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.” – a 2nd-year associate 


Summer program 

Offers: undisclosed 

Acceptances: undisclosed 

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 3rd-year associate. 

“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.” – a 3rd-year associate 


And finally... 

Irell's summer program includes the chance to get involved in a mock wrongful death trial, which is overseen by a retired federal judge. 

Irell & Manella LLP

1800 Avenue of the Stars,
Los Angeles,
CA 90067-4276

  • Head Office: Los Angeles, CA
  • Number of domestic offices: 2
  • Number of international offices: 0
  • Partners (US): 25
  • Associates (US): 32
  • Contacts  
  • Main recruitment contact: ( Alanna Cowan
  • Hiring partner: Keith Orso
  • Diversity officer: Kyle Kawakami
  • Recruitment details  
  • Entry-level associates starting in 2021: 7
  • Clerking policy: Yes
  • Summers joining/anticipated 2021: 2Ls: 11
  • Summers joining/anticipated 2021 split by office: Los Angeles: 9 Newport Beach: 2
  • Summer salary 2021: 1Ls: $3,654 2Ls: $3,654
  • Split summers offered? Yes

Main areas of work
Complex commercial litigation, including all aspects of intellectual property (patent, trademark, copyright and trade secret), business litigation, class action litigation , securities litigation, and appellate.

Firm profile
Irell & Manella is a law firm primarily focused on high-stakes litigation 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.

Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2021: 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, The Law Consortium, and SFIPLA Job Fair
Resume Collections: Cornell, Chapman, Davis, Duke, Emory, Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University, George Mason, Georgetown, George Washington, Hastings, Howard, Loyola (Los Angeles), North Carolina Central University, Notre Dame, Pepperdine, Southern University, Southwestern, Texas, Texas Southern University, University of Pennsylvania, University of Washington, University of the District of Columbia, UVA, Vanderbilt, Washington University 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.

Social media:
Recruitment website:
Linkedin: irell-&-manella
Twitter: @IrellandManella

This Firm's Rankings in
USA Guide, 2021

Ranked Departments

    • Intellectual Property: Patent Litigation (Band 2)
    • Life Sciences (Band 4)
    • Tax (Band 3)
    • Intellectual Property (Band 3)