McDermott Will & Emery LLP - The Inside View

Windy City native McDermott is flying high on another year of double-digit revenue growth.

With disruption on the scale of 2020, there are invariably winners and losers across industries. Fortunately, McDermott is firmly in the winners’ camp. Its revenue increased by more than 19% to $1.4 billion, while profits per equity partner jumped by more than 25%. Chambers USA might hold a clue to what’s behind this impressive growth. McDermott is ranked top in seven regions and nationally for its healthcare practice. The firm’s prestige in this practice area makes it a magnet for associates with experience and expertise in the healthcare sector. “I think around 70% of us have healthcare backgrounds,” one junior estimated. “And of the 30% that don’t have direct experience, very few have zero healthcare knowledge.”

“I think around 70% of us have healthcare backgrounds.”

Healthcare work underpins the firm’s offering across its 13 domestic offices, but it’s not the end of the story. Food, life sciences, private equity, tech and energy are other key sectors for McDermott. It has a suite of impressive localized Chambers USA rankings, notably in its home state of Illinois. Here it gets kudos for litigation, tax, employee benefits & executive compensation, corporate/M&A, and antitrust. Highlights elsewhere include insurance and IP rankings in DC, and outsourcing in Texas. We were told that DCis the firm’s regulatory hub, Boston has a bio-tech/life sciences niche, and in Miami, “the number-one focus is private equity transactions in the context of the healthcare.” Sources in New York highlighted that “bankruptcy is a big focus.”

McDermott made it to the US top 10 for Associate Satisfaction >

Strategy & Future

In a global pandemic, McDermott’s expertise in the healthcare space has proved to be a great asset. “We really doubled down on listening to our clients and providing support during their most critical moments,” says managing partner Ira Coleman. “We’ve worked hard to earn our position as a trusted adviser.” He continues: “One of the silver linings during this time was that new rules and legislation were coming out at a breakneck pace and our associates could, practically overnight, become experts on various topics.” He also points out that “clients in the private equity space have never been more excited about activity in the sector and are very active making bets and investing in a variety of innovative young companies.”

The Big Interview: Being at the helm of a firm with a top healthcare practice during a global pandemic puts Ira Coleman in a unique position to talk about how Covid-19 is shaping BigLaw.

Within the firm, Coleman tells us “we believe strongly that there is no returning to the way things were in 2019 – and we have no intention of doing that.” He shares that “I was very interested in the thinking of the author Simon Sinek, who advises that large organizations should use the crisis to act like a startup, to take risks and experiment.”  With this in mind, “we have developed a series of leading and lagging business indicators to anticipate future demand. For example, we began looking carefully at how many NDAs we see in a given week and are counting those in a way we wouldn’t have done before.”

The Work

“Compared to firms which have 50 associates in a single office, McDermott only takes on a few in each office for its summer program,” one junior explained. McDermott recruits between 50 and 60 summer associates in total across half of its offices. The firm’s biggest office and HQ is Chicago, which takes the lion’s share of incomers, along with DC and New York. Miami, Boston, San Francisco and LA each house a handful of juniors too. “Being in a smaller cohort allowed me to meet everyone in my prospective group early on,” one associate reflected.

Interviewees were also grateful for smaller class sizes because “you’re not trying to beat associates to get work.” One said: “I don’t have the personality to try and compete against 20 other summers!” That’s good news given that it’s a free-market work allocation system, so associates do have to go out looking for assignments. But “there are also practice group leaders you can go to for support, or if you are particularly slow.” The firm’s transactions group houses the most associates, followed by healthcare and litigation. The remaining associates are scattered among the firm’s employment, IP, private client, regulatory and tax groups.

“The US healthcare landscape is always changing. There are always new laws at the state and federal level. It keeps everything very current.”

Associates in the healthcare group need a versatile skill set to succeed. The firm provides corporate and regulatory advice to clients ranging from life sciences companies and hospitals to diagnostic groups, nursing homes and large physician group practices. “I’ve worked on M&A transactions and joint ventures, and helped companies with disclosure issues on compliance cases,” one detailed. Anotherweighed in on the intrigue of working in the healthcare sector. “The US healthcare landscape is always changing,” they said. “There are always new laws at the state and federal level. It keeps everything very current.” As such, juniors emphasized that “day to day, the work is very different. It all depends on what clients are asking for. I would say in the average week I would be drafting a lot of ancillary documents, helping with research queries, and summarizing our stance on issues.” One source who was focused onprivate equity matters told us that “my number-one roleis conducting due diligence, which includes reviewing contracts, licenses, and permits from a healthcare perspective. Alongside that I’m also responsible for researching corporate practice laws.” The firm’s corporate practice is separate from the healthcare group. The team there works on M&A, private equity, and finance issues outside of the healthcare sector. However, even here we were told that “teams are typically made up with a mix of corporate and healthcare associates.” The bottom line is that all transactional associates will see healthcare-related work at some point.

Healthcare clients: Cigna,Children’s Hospital of Orange County, University of Michigan, Sheridan Capital Partners. McDermott advised Walmart on its ‘Walmart Health’ initiative, including the development of health clinics at the retail giant’s store locations in several states.

Juniors entering McDermott’s disputes group can expect a mix of commercial litigation, securities litigation, white-collar work, and internal investigations. Though many cases are related to the healthcare sector, the group has a broader sector expertise. For example, financial institutions and companies in the hospitality sector are also key clients of the firm. We also spoke to juniors who had dealt with clients in the oil & gas and manufacturing sectors. “The firm encourages you to get a broad experience, so it means the practice doesn’t get stale,” one source told us. “I’ve even done some random landlord/tenant cases,” said another. At the very junior level, associates reported “drafting sections of briefs and client memos,” while those with a couple more years of experience said they were able to take ownership over larger sections of briefs. On the white-collar side, associates were “working with clients to manage their response to inquiries.”

Litigation clients: NFL, Sun-Maid, Honeywell International, eBay. Defended electronics company Motorola Mobility against claims from more than 65 plaintiffs that the use of wireless telephones had caused their brain tumors.

Career Development

Our interviewees agreed that “rarely do associates go to work for another firm or seek lateral opportunities, unless it’s in a practice area not currently covered by the firm.” Instead, they identified two clear career trajectories for associates beyond the firm: “They either go to work in-house, typically at a healthcare company, hospital, or private equity company that handles healthcare transactions, or they go and work for government.”

“By keeping class sizes small, it signals that the firm wants to invest in its people long-term.”

For those who want to stay and make partner, juniors felt there was ample support. “By keeping the associate class sizes small, it signals that the firm wants to invest in its people long-term,” one associate in Boston reflected. “Our leader [Ira Coleman] has been at the firm for their whole career of almost 30 yearsand there are multiple others who have been here for 10 or 15 years – there’s not a huge amount of turnover.”

Culture, Hours & Compensation

Billable hours: 2,000 target

Our interviewees felt that McDermott leaned more toward the progressive camp when it came to firm culture. “The firm has an understanding that we are all people outside of our jobs and that is apparent in the messaging from all levels in the firm,” one insider told us. Associates praised “a young and liberal” leadership, singling out their communication for particular praise. “The level of transparency from the leadership has been amazing, particularly during the pandemic,” one felt. “It makes you feel like a true member of the team, rather than a billing machine.”

“My bonus was double the market rate.”

We spoke to a number of juniors who had been putting in a significant number of hours. “I would say that working between 50 and 60 hours is a good week,” one reckoned. “Typically, I’m billing around 10 to 11 hours a day and work two out of four weekends in a month.” The firm’s record year of revenue indicates that there’s plenty of work on the go, and those willing to go the extra mile will find themselves well rewarded. “They compensate us very well,” a New Yorkerrevealed. “My bonus was double the market rate.”

For another interviewee, “what make it sustainable is that the firm really respects vacations. I’ve been able to take more than one two-week vacation and nobody has bothered me.” Again, associates praised the firm’s leadership on this front: “Our chairman, Ira Coleman, hosts regular calls with all the associates, and the message from him is to make sure we are taking time for ourselves and to take time for vacations.” 

But it wasn’t the reality for all our interviewees: associates in our survey had taken an average of just under seven days of vacation in the last year. “Lately I’ve been so busy, especially with COVID-19,” one told us. “Taking vacation has been tough. A lot of partners haven’t taken vacation either.”

Generally, our interviewees agreed that the firm managed to “strike a good balance between staffing and the pressures that puts on you.” For example, “I have had multiple conversations with mentors and they always check you are not overwhelmed,” one associate assured us. “Nobody wants anybody to burn out. There is a recognition that working 80 hours a week is not healthy.” On top of that, associates can bill 25 hours dedicated to mindfulness activities. “They will count anything such as yoga and meditating toward your hours target,” one source explained. “Even a nice walk to clear your head!”

Diversity & Inclusion

Our interviewees were pleased to report that the firm had positively responded to the BLM movement last year. For example, it recently established McDermott RISE, “a program to provide black and other underrepresented minority entrepreneurs with legal support. We also put the entrepreneurs in touch with our own connections in the industry to help them achieve their goals.”

“A program to provide black and other underrepresented minority entrepreneurs with legal support.”

Within the firm, “there has been a lot of discussion on the topic of diversity and I don’t believe it’s just empty rhetoric either,” one felt. “The firm is good at keeping senior management accountable to these kinds of things.” Speaking of senior management, we heard that chairman Ira Coleman’s motto at the firm is ‘always better.’ “It’s simple and corny,” said one junior with affection, “but it’s also a useful way of looking at things.” They felt it was reflective of the firm’s wider approach to D&I: “It’s not content settling with the old way of doing things.” Our interviewees noted “a big focus on hiring diverse candidates.” Though the number of lawyers from ethnic minority backgrounds at the firm is around the market average, the representation of women at McDermott’s partnership level is among the highest in BigLaw at 32%.

Pro Bono

After a change in policy, associates can now bill 100 hours of pro bono toward their billable hours requirement. “You are also welcome to exceed that,” said one, “You just need to fill in a form. I’ve billed a huge number of hours and never received any pushback.” Associates told us “the firm is of the mindset that you can get excellent experience and develop valuable skills from working on pro bono cases,” with one adding: “Some of my most formative experiences have come from pro bono cases.” McDermott’s pro bono program offers associate the chance to work on matters ranging from family law, civil rights, housing and special education matters, immigration and criminal defense. In a recent highlight, the firm obtained $2 million from the US International Boundary and Water Commission for the Surfrider Foundation, a nonprofit organization focused on beach and ocean protection. And of course, there are also plenty of healthcare matters to go round too!

Pro bono hours

  • For all US offices: 48,847
  • Average per US attorney: 58

Get Hired 

The first stage: recruitment on and off campus 

OCI applicants interviewed:  1,098 

Interviewees outside OCI: 29 

“While we recruit at many of the top-ranked law schools, we also focus our recruiting efforts at schools we have identified as key feeders. We also do additional to job fairs, work with student groups directly and do resume collections to make sure we are talking to as many students from around the country as possible,” hiring partners Allison Wilkerson and Lisa Schmitz Mazur tell us. In addition to OCI programs at law schools, McDermott attends several regional, diversity and IP-focused job fairs. Interviews are conducted by local and national hiring partners, alumni, local and firmwide practice group leaders, firm leadership, as well as members of the firm’s recruiting and diversity committees. During OCIs, interviewers meet approximately 16-20 students per schedule. Given the rapid interview process, at this stage “most of our questions are broad-based and focus on getting to know the candidate and their interest in our firm. In addition to understanding why a candidate is interested in McDermott, our interviewers will ask questions to gauge what the candidates’ goals are and what their office and practice interests may be.” 

Top tips for this stage: 

By taking to the time to research the practice areas represented in the office, candidates demonstrate that they are sincere about their summer job search and are looking to find a firm that aligns with their interests.” – Hiring partners Allison Wilkerson and Lisa Schmitz Mazur. 



Applicants invited to second stage interview: 435 

Candidates will meet with at least four or five interviewers. Callback interviews are mostly conducted by a mix of partners and associates made up of recruiting committee members as well as representatives from the practice areas in which the candidate has expressed interest. 

Interviewers here ask more in-depth questions about things such as prior work experience, school experience and short and long terms goals in a candidate’s career:  

“We look for candidates with characteristics that go beyond academic excellence. We seek candidates who will prioritize solutions over ideas, bring their best to the table every day, stand together and support each other, embrace new and diverse perspectives and anticipate change and adapt quickly,” say Wilkerson and Mazur. 

Top tips for this stage: 

“Even if you do not have experience that directly relates to the practice of law, impressive candidates find ways to tie their prior experiences to the future work they will perform for the Firm and its clients, emphasizing, among other things, problem solving, a willingness to learn, and a strong work ethic.”  Hiring partners Allison Wilkerson and Lisa Schmitz Mazur. 


Summer program 

Offers: 129 

Acceptances: 50 

For the 2021, McDermott’s summer program is adopting a hybrid approach, “that allows for both virtual and in-person components.” The firm tells us that “for the first eight weeks, our formal program will be primarily virtual, with substantive work assignments, formal and informal mentoring, training programs, and remote social activities. However, we’ll also offer optional in-person opportunities for meetings in the office and get-togethers outside the office, keeping in mind the need for safe distancing wherever possible, and only for those students who are interested.” For the last two weeks of the program, all candidates will hopefully be brought together in person. There is also a firmwide summer associate retreat that takes place at the end of July. We were told that “summers rank their practice group preferences mid-way through the summer program and the firm matches them up while also considering the firm's broader hiring goals.” 

Top tips for this stage: 

“McDermott is all about collaboration, with many of our practice groups working together across the platform to solve the challenges our clients face on a day to day basis. Getting acquainted with attorneys across a variety of practice groups and that are geographically diverse builds on the collegial atmosphere of our Firm, even at the summer associate level.” – Hiring partners Allison Wilkerson and Lisa Schmitz Mazur 

And finally… 

Wilkerson and Mazur tell us “Our goal is to be the number one career accelerant in the industry and we pride ourselves on having a warm, people-first culture.  We want you to get to know us too, so don’t be afraid to ask questions. We hope candidates embrace - and enjoy! - the process.” 

McDermott Will & Emery LLP

444 West Lake Street,
IL 60606-0029

  • Head Office: Chicago, IL 
  • Number of domestic offices: 13
  • Number of international offices: 8
  • Worldwide revenue: $1.38Billion
  • Partners US: 487
  • Associates US: 274
  • Contacts 
  • Main recruitment contact: Erika Gardiner, Director of Associate Recruiting (
  • Hiring partners: Allison Wilkerson, Lisa Schmitz Mazur 
  • Diversity officer: Anthony Upshaw, Global Head of Diversity & Inclusion
  • Recruitment details 
  • Entry-level associates starting in 2021: 37
  • Clerking policy: Yes
  • Summers joining/anticipated 2021: 61 (1L: 6, 2L: 55)
  • Summers joining/anticipated 2021 split by office: Boston: 5, Chicago: 16, Los Angeles: 5, Miami: 3, New York: 11, San Francisco: 4, Washington D.C.: 17
  • Summer salary 2021: 1Ls: $ 3,653/week 2Ls: $ 3,653/week
  • Split summers offered? Case-by-case
  • Can summers spend time in an overseas office? No

Main areas of work

 Antitrust and competition, corporate, employee benefits, employment, energy, financial institutions, government strategies, health, intellectual property, private client, state and local tax, trial, US and international tax, white collar and securities defense.

Firm profile

 As a top-ranked international law firm, McDermott Will & Emery focuses both on being indispensable to clients and on creating a culture of happiness and excellence in its offices worldwide. With recognized strengths in tax, private equity, mergers and acquisitions, healthcare, high-stakes litigation and many other key areas of transactional and regulatory law, the firm fosters long-term, industry-focused relationships with its clients. Leadership is committed to providing lawyers and staff professionals at all levels with an exceptional work experience, opportunities to work on significant matters and ongoing professional development, mentorship and training. Understanding that success is driven by their people, they respect individuality and provide support for each person to live a life they love.


Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2021:
Boston College Law School, Boston University School of Law, Columbia University Law School, Duke University School of Law, Emory University School of Law, Fordham University School of Law, George Washington University Law School, Georgetown University Law Center, Harvard Law School, Howard University School of Law, New York University School of Law, Northwestern University School of Law, Stanford Law School, UCLA School of Law, University of California at Berkeley, Boalt Hall School of Law, University of Chicago Law School, University of Florida Levin College of Law, University of Illinois College of Law, University of Miami School of Law, University of Michigan Law School, University of Notre Dame Law School, University of Pennsylvania Law School, University of Southern California Gould School of Law, University of Texas School of Law, University of Virginia School of Law, Vanderbilt University Law School, Yale Law School

Recruitment outside OCIs: We attend several diversity and IP focused job fairs outside of OCI programs at law schools. We also accept write-in applications.

Summer associate profile: McDermott strives to hire well-rounded candidates who maintain a balance of academic, as well as personal and professional successes. The ideal summer associate candidate is someone who possesses the drive to tackle new challenges and embrace new experiences, takes an active approach to building relationships with attorneys and staff, has a collegial attitude and acts with integrity.

Summer program components: Our program offers summer associates a realistic introduction to the practice of law and day-to-day life as a McDermott associate. The summer associate program provides meaningful responsibility and feedback that is consistent with a junior associate experience. Summer associates are given the opportunity to accept assignments with many of our practice groups during the summer. This allows summers to experience the type of work they are interested in first-hand and ultimately steer them toward the type of work they enjoy. Our conservative hiring approach allows students to access a number of substantive assignments and matters. Summer associates receive formal feedback during midsummer evaluation and final review in addition to information feedback over the course of the summer. Each summer associate is assigned an associate and partner level mentor to provide guidance throughout the summer, explain firm policies, address any questions or concerns and to assist in the transition from law school to life in a law firm.

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This Firm's Rankings in
USA Guide, 2021

Ranked Departments

    • Healthcare (Band 1)
    • Labor & Employment (Band 5)
    • Litigation: General Commercial: Highly Regarded (Band 2)
    • Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations (Band 3)
    • Tax: State & Local (Band 1)
    • Antitrust (Band 4)
    • Healthcare (Band 1)
    • Healthcare: Pharmaceutical/Medical Products Regulatory (Band 4)
    • Insurance: Insurer (Band 2)
    • Intellectual Property: Litigation (Band 4)
    • Intellectual Property: Trademark, Copyright & Trade Secrets (Band 3)
    • Tax (Band 3)
    • Healthcare (Band 1)
    • Tax (Band 3)
    • Corporate/M&A & Private Equity (Band 2)
    • Corporate/M&A (Band 4)
    • Antitrust (Band 2)
    • Banking & Finance (Band 3)
    • Bankruptcy/Restructuring (Band 5)
    • Corporate/M&A & Private Equity (Band 2)
    • Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation (Band 1)
    • Healthcare (Band 1)
    • Intellectual Property (Band 2)
    • Intellectual Property: Trademark, Copyright & Trade Secrets (Band 1)
    • Litigation: General Commercial (Band 3)
    • Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations (Band 1)
    • Tax (Band 1)
    • Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation (Band 2)
    • Healthcare (Band 1)
    • Intellectual Property (Band 3)
    • Litigation: General Commercial (Band 3)
    • Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations (Band 1)
    • Bankruptcy/Restructuring: The Elite (Band 6)
    • Corporate/M&A: Highly Regarded (Band 4)
    • Healthcare (Band 5)
    • Insurance: Transactional & Regulatory (Band 3)
    • Real Estate: Mainly Corporate & Finance (Band 5)
    • Tax (Band 4)
    • Tax: State & Local (Band 1)
    • Corporate/M&A: Highly Regarded (Band 2)
    • Tax (Band 4)
    • Technology: Outsourcing (Band 1)
    • Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation (Band 2)
    • Antitrust (Band 4)
    • Corporate/M&A: Highly Regarded (Band 4)
    • Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation (Band 3)
    • Energy: Electricity (Regulatory & Litigation) (Band 2)
    • Food & Beverages: Alcohol (Band 1)
    • Healthcare: The Elite (Band 1)
    • Intellectual Property (Band 5)
    • International Trade: Trade Remedies & Trade Policy (Band 4)
    • Life Sciences (Band 4)
    • Outsourcing (Band 2)
    • Privacy & Data Security: Healthcare Spotlight Table
    • Privacy & Data Security: The Elite (Band 4)
    • Projects: Renewables & Alternative Energy (Band 5)
    • Tax: Controversy (Band 3)
    • Tax: Corporate & Finance (Band 3)