Irell & Manella LLP - The Inside View

This doyen of disputes is a product of its surroundings: big Californian tech and Tinseltown brands keep Irell looking sharper than sharp.

WITH clients ranging from media megastars like Warner Bros. and Disney to tech giants like Tesla and Uber, Californian-born Irell's work remains tip-top. It may be a relatively small operation (its 121 attorneys are split between two offices in Century City and Newport Beach), but Irell attracts clients with worldwide reach, allowing associates to work on “very important, complex cases in lean teams.”

“We have an enormous reputation for IP,” managing partner Ellisen Turner – who took the reins in February 2018 – tells us, “but it's a common misconception that we're only an IP firm. We're great in that area – I think we're the best – but we are phenomenal in a wide array of fields.” Chambers USA certainly honors Irell's IP prowess with a tiptop ranking in California, but also rates its securities, media & entertainment, general commercial litigation, tax, life sciences and bankruptcy expertise. While the majority of Irell's lawyers work in its litigious teams, the firm does have transactional capabilities in areas like M&A, real estate, private equity and debt finance.

Strategy & Future

“Our lawyers in life sciences are knocking it out of the park.”

Turner adds that while the firm has no goal to open more offices, new recruits in the future can expect to see a firm that's “a bit larger, with more practice areas – at the moment our global investigation and anti-corruption practice are expanding, while our lawyers in life sciences are knocking it out of the park.” The recent appointment of Department of Justice prosecutor Jason Linder also bodes well for the firm's future, Turner tells us: “Jason was an associate here, then he went to the DOJ and worked across every major industry in the US. Now he's back and he'll be enhancing our global investigations and anti-corruption practice.”

The Work

The vast majority of Irell's juniors work in its broad litigation practice – only a couple of the second and third years on our list were assigned to the firm's corporate practice. A free-market system of assignment allowed our sources to “control your own career path and reach out to the different partners you want to work with.” This system was popular with our interviewees, who prized the freedom it gave them: “I don't want to specialize! I want to try out lots of different types of work and form my own practice.” They also felt shielded from the potential negative effects of a free market, as “no one falls under the radar or is left behind: you're supported and guided because the firm is small enough to give you a lot of training and mentorship.”

“I don't want to specialize!”

Litigators are therefore free to sample the raft of matters that fall under the practice area, from media and entertainment disputes to securities cases to IP issues to government investigations to insurance fallouts. Many of our sources had taken on patent cases and “really loved them – Irell is one of the few firms that allow you try this work without a science degree.” One raved about being given “huge responsibility on a large-scale, complex patent litigation case: I got to take on deposition work with experts, which has made me much more confident. Plus we secured a really great settlement.”

Across all specialties juniors agreed that there are “meaningful opportunities and the chance to exercise early responsibility.” As cases are prepared for trial, juniors had found themselves “drafting expert reports and preparing witness outlines – you get a wide range of experiences that you don't expect as a first year. You're not doing hours and hours of doc review – you're managing doc review while drafting things and doing research.”

Training & Development

New recruits can expect two days of orientation training when they join, which covers “all the basics like computer training, and then a few weeks later you get to go on the retreat to Palm Springs!” This three-day excursion was unanimously popular among associates, who told us: “It's wonderful. There are workshops and trainings, but overall it serves as a great introduction to Irell – a fun weekend where the new associates can meet the partners and bond from the beginning. It's relaxing too; some people play golf, some go to the spa etc…” Upon their return litigators get into the training spirit by undertaking a two-day deposition training program, which sees juniors “perform a mock deposition – the firm hires actors to play the witnesses!” This is followed by regular lunchtime trainings “on a different topic between January and May in your first year.”

“You get to go on the retreat to Palm Springs!”

All new starters are also assigned an associate mentor upon arrival. “They're your official mentor but they're mostly a safety net,” interviewees agreed. “The people I go to are the partners I've built relationships with – I do that because I can and because they're there for me.” Other sources also bestowed praise on their seniors' approach to mentoring: “You get close mentorship from all levels. We'll get support if something doesn't go right the first time.” Aiding this support network is a 'gap lunch' program which enables juniors to take more senior associates to lunch on the firm's dime: “There's a huge emphasis on associate peer mentoring. It's another way to form mentorships that you create yourself.”

Pro Bono

“The firm definitely encourages pro bono,” juniors told us. “Irell has a 'one for one' policy, so all pro bono hours count as billable and there's no maximum amount that you can do.” How maximum is maximum? “One first year racked up over 1,000 hours – when they say that Irell puts its money where its mouth is, it's absolutely true. The firm is happy if you are building and developing valuable skills.”

“...all pro bono hours count as billable.”

Our interviewees had been building those valuable skills on a smorgasbord of matters, including those relating to domestic violence, civil rights, gang violence, construction and copyright law. “A lot of the pro bono around here is related to immigration and asylum matters. Those cases are all local, whereas some of the copyright stuff has been sourced in the UK.” Sources were on the whole eager to “take advantage” of Irell's generous stance on pro bono, and not just because “the good wouldn't be done otherwise.” It also allows newbies to “take ownership” of the pro bono they take on: “We handle the entire case ourselves!”

Pro bono hours

  • For all attorneys: 9,590
  • Average per attorney: 101

Culture & Offices

The concept of 'ownership' came up again and again in our interviews as a defining cultural trait: “You're encouraged to take it! It's the thing that makes somebody do well here in general. You're not meant to feel like a cog in a machine.” This emphasis on ownership makes Irell a “'choose your own adventure' sort of place,” which values flexibility in various contexts (as you'll see from the stance on working from home, below). “They let you work how you want. My door can be open but I can also shut it for days on end if I want – you can switch depending on your mood.” Ultimately, “it's a 'do your own thing' culture,” another interviewee summed up, with the firm's social staples – like Friday night happy hours and monthly breakfasts – “there for you to be involved in them as much as you want. Some people just want to work and go home and that's accepted and normal.” Most people make the effort to attend Irell's annual all-attorney retreat: “Last year it was held at Monarch Beach Resort! It lasts for a couple of days, and you can bring your family. One of the partners turned to me and said: 'Isn't this nice? If we were a bigger firm we wouldn't be able to do this!'”

“It's a 'do your own thing' culture.”

With its reputation for hiring top-scoring graduates and promoting an intellectual vibe, juniors were pleasantly surprisedwhen they arrived at Irell: “I thought it was going to be an aloof, intellectual and judgmental place, but everyone I met blasted that misconception! I've loved talking to the people here and working with them.” A warm atmosphere was reported in Irell's Century City HQ, where there's “a sense of familiarity – we know each other's names and say hi to one another in the halls.” The vast majority of the firm's juniors are based here (the Newport Beach office only housed one junior on our list), and the sources we spoke to loved it: “Century City is great! I'm infinitely happier than friends of mine in New York. You can actually live in a house here and still be a 15-minute walk away from work.” While the office itself is “a bit dated,” sources did highlight that they get a $500 decorating budget for their individual offices, which come with some stunning views: “I watch the clouds roll in from the ocean,” one relayed dreamily.

Hours & Compensation

The hours “aren't that different to what they are at a typical BigLaw firm,” said juniors, “but they trust you to be responsible and shape your own schedule to get the work done.” This was especially true in the Century City office, where working from home is quite common: “I work from home one day a week on average – sometimes two or three days. A partner once said to me: 'I don't care if you work from the moon as long as you do your work!'” When they are in the office, juniors tended to work between 8/9am and 6/7pm on average, with some logging back on “for an hour or two” at home to wrap up any outstanding tasks. When cases do go to trial, the hours increase as “you're in court all day and then come back to the office to get everything ready for the next day – but it's fine because you know it's coming up and can plan ahead.” Fortunately, “after a long trial they encourage you to take vacation. In fact, it's expected.”

“...after a long trial they encourage you to take vacation.”

All of this hard work goes into meeting Irell's 2,000-hour bonus threshold. “If you hit that you'll get a lockstep bonus that's determined by class year. They might bump you up if you're almost at 2,000 so you get a bonus – but that's not guaranteed.” The target number “has been tailored to incentivize a realistic amount of work,” juniors told us, with one adding: “It doesn't put me in competition with my peers, as we're all working to bill the same amount.”


Ellisen Turner hit the headlines back in fall 2017 when it was announced that he would become Irell's first African American managing partner (and, from our research, the first of anAmLaw 200 firm). “Our diversity committee's job is to think about these things and make them better. We bring in consultants and speakers to give us guidance,” Turner tells us.Among Irell's situation-improving initiatives are pre-law outreach programs; a $15,000 scholarship program for diverse law students; and an implicit bias-combating interview technique during OCI season. So far, associates are impressed by Turner's efforts: “Ellisen is putting a huge focus on increasing diversity here. We're excited about his tenure.”

Get Hired

We grow and hire great lawyers here,” says managing partner Ellisen Turner. “We need them to be great because we unwind the Gordian knots that clients get into – and that requires creative lawyering.” As for the 'Irell type,'current juniors told us: “We don't have a specific mold or formula; you can just be yourself here.” They added that Irell is currently putting a huge focus on diversity. A member of the hiring committee said: “We've been hosting loads of talks because we recognize that there's a problem. We also have a dedicated diversity committee, and they're heavily involved in making sure we bring in a diverse group of candidates.”

This is reflected in the firm's new OCI interview policy, as Turner explains: “We're implementing an objective set of questions to stamp out the effect of the long-held 'did I hit it off with this candidate?' approach to hiring – a recipe for implicit bias. By posing objective questions and getting our attorneys to record the answers, we can get a truly representative picture of whether or not a candidate could be successful here. It's a more rigorous process that produces debate and discussion, as we have real answers to real questions in front of us. We've made better hiring decisions because of it.”

When we asked associates which qualities their colleagues at Irell tend to have, one told us: “Everyone's really, really, smart – we're the best of the best.” Turner also emphasizes this focus on intellectualism at the firm: “At the heart of what we're famous for is the fact that we have incredibly intelligent, highly capable and committed lawyers.” Getting those top grades across your years at law school is therefore essential if you want to catch a recruiter's eye at Irell. Turner also encourages diverse law students to consider Irell, as ensuring that minorities can succeed is a priority for the firm: “Many of the people we've promoted recently have been women and diverse attorneys. We're a place where everyone can succeed, and we focus on giving all of our associates opportunities to succeed early on. Over the past few years we've increased our focus on ensuring that women and diverse attorneys advance at our firm.”

Notable summer events:

1) Firm-wide overnight event at a Southern California hotel/resort between both offices.

2) An annual summer associate weekend retreat.

3) A firm-wide baseball outing in Los Angeles or Orange County (alternating locations each year).

4) Partner hosted dinners at home.

Pro Bono

Notable pro bono opportunities:

  • American Civil Liberties Union
  • Alliance for Children's Rights
  • AMVETS Legal Clinic
  • Anti-Defamation League
  • Bet Tzedek
  • Constitutional Rights Foundation
  • Inner City Law Center
  • Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project
  • Kids In Need of Defense
  • Lambda Legal
  • Natural Resources Defense Council
  • Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Pro Bono Program
  • Public Counsel Law Center
  • Public Law Center
  • Western Center on Law and Poverty


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): 46
  • Associates (US): 48
  • Contact 
  • Main recruitment contact: Alanna Cowan (
  • Hiring partner: Keith Orso
  • Diversity officer: Kyle Kawakami
  • Recruitment details 
  • Entry-level associates starting in 2018: 14
  • Clerking policy: Yes
  • Summers joining/anticipated 2018: 2Ls: 20
  • Summers joining/anticipated 2018 split by office: Los Angeles: 18 Newport Beach: 2
  • Summer salary 2018: 1Ls: $ 3,462 2Ls: $ 3,462
  • 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, patent, copyright and trademark, private equity and venture capital, professional liability defense, public offerings and private placements, securities law and corporate governance, securities litigation and tax.

Firm profile

 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 2018:
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.
Resume Collections: 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. 

Social media

 Linkedin: irell-&-manella
Twitter: @IrellandManella

This Firm's Rankings in
USA Guide, 2019

Ranked Departments

    • 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)
    • Intellectual Property (Band 2)