McDermott Will & Emery LLP - The Inside View

Food and beverages. Healthcare. Private equity. If you don’t think those three things fit together, the folks at McDermott have got news for you.

SOME firms attract junior talent with one key selling point, a fish hook dangling into the OCI pond. Others have more than one selling point to lure their future juniors in – and if our interviews are anything to go by, McDermott has more hooks than a pirate convention. Some saw the appeal of its corporate practice, appreciating the “mid-market private equity focus, which I liked because the deal teams are smaller and so you get a lot of experience working directly with senior attorneys.” For others, the call of the healthcare practice was irresistible: “Any time you Google ‘health law firms’, McDermott is one of the first to come up.” A few just wanted to see more of the “personable and friendly people, I got a really good vibe from the ones who interviewed me.”

This Windy City native has a cyclone’s worth of Chambers USA rankings in practice areas like food & beverages, healthcare, labor & employment, white-collar litigation, tax and IP. And globally, McDermott has made something of a name for itself among high net-worth individuals. McDermott ain’t just a Chicago story – Boston, DC, Dallas, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, San Francisco and Silicon Valley all recruit juniors who can “rather frequently work across offices – you're able to draw on expertise from all over the firm.”

The Work

Around a third of McDermott’s juniors can be found in corporate advisory; another third splits 50/50 between litigation and health; and the final chunk spans employment, IP, private client and regulatory. Most of the groups operate a free market work assignment system, coupled to a “survey every week about who has time and availability. It’s still free market in the sense that once you develop relationships with partners, they keep coming back to you.” Some juniors noted that “it can sometimes be difficult to manage expectations from partners who don’t know what your workload looks like,” though they appreciated having “more control over the type of work you get.”

Corporate advisory covers mid-market private equity, larger M&A deals, finance work, corporate dealmaking for private clients, securities and capital markets; juniors had seen “a bit of everything” in their first few years at MWE. Chicago sources flagged that “even on the M&A side, private equity and healthcare deals are a specialty at the firm. There’s a lot of healthcare-related transactional work.” Healthcare is a focus across all of McDermott’s offices, though New York leans more toward private equity than elsewhere. “A lot of smaller private equity firms don’t have robust in-house legal departments,”so juniors get to manage “miscellaneous corporate work” alongside the due diligence process and typical ancillary document drafting. The luckiest also got to “help draft main deal documents like merger, stock and membership interest purchase agreements.” McDermott’s finance practice is primarily borrower-side “in connection with the private equity transactions that the M&A group handles”– juniors were “responsible for negotiating the security agreement and dealing with loan collateral” among other tasks. This mix left interviewees “sufficiently challenged, but not overwhelmed – it’s that sweet spot you want to be in.”

“There’s a good mix of both regulatory and transactional work.”

Transactional clients: Peak Rock Capital, BioTek Instruments, RiverGlade. Acted for private equity firm HIG in the $600 million acquisition of Lipari Foods.

Health is one of McDermott’s trademark practices – an associate described their team as “corporate attorneys for healthcare entities. There’s a good mix of both regulatory and transactional work.”The DC office is, unsurprisingly, a regulatory hub; sources found themselves “advising clients, which tend to be pharma and medical device companies, when they want to get a product approved or if they want to see how the FDA would regulate a certain product.” Over in Chicago, sources noticed an uptick in digital health clients and telehealth work – this mega-modern area of law is a “major driver of business” in healthcare alongside the booming private equity market. “There’s also health privacy and security, where we advise clients on patient confidentiality. We’re working with industry experts in each of these areas.” Tasks often involved reviewing contracts and licenses, as well as drafting documents like consent forms. Sources had also “drafted and revised compliance policies from scratch,” as well as purchase and employment agreements on deals. Research is another staple for juniors; in DC they’ve “started to get more involved in cannabis law, learning about the regulations at state and federal levels.”

Health clients: OMERS Private Equity, Goldman Sachs, University of Michigan Health System. Advised Covera Health on the development of its Radiology Centers of Excellence Program and collaboration with Walmart.

Commercial litigation is the core diet for ‘trial’ juniors, but white-collar investigations and healthcare disputes also play a role. New York is primarily corporate and commercial-focused with a fair range of clients, while offices like Chicago and Boston do more health-related disputes. “We also have accounting liability groups in New York, a litigator added; this was bolstered by lateral hires from DLA Piper in 2018. Trial attorneys we spoke to had also dabbled in contract disputes, class actions, bankruptcy and insurance litigation. Junior tasks include “standard legal research and document review” but sources were also able to “write first drafts of briefs at both trial and appellate level.” There’s also a fair amount of client contact on offer, most commonly “when the client has an issue pre-litigation. As the junior on the case I’ll do all the research and write the memo outlining potential risk while predicting how a particular dispute could be resolved.”

Litigation clients: ExxonMobil, Florida Blue, National Football League. Represented Motorola Mobility in more than 60 cases in which plaintiffs claimed that wireless telephones caused their brain tumors.

Career Development

Juniors across McDermott’s practices were pleased with the formal training provided: “They usually offer two or three sessions a week. They’re about an hour long and include lunch.” Larger firmwide trainings take place within departments – the health group “flew all the associates out to DCfor a few days of health law training,”whereas the corporate department gathered in Chicago for “a two-day, all-encompassing training program where we got the opportunity to draft various documents and practice negotiations, which wouldn’t typically happen at this stage of our careers.” Away from the formal programs, juniors were happy to see “some partners go out of their way to give you feedback – they show you what they’ve changed and what you did well and are willing to sit down and talk things through.”

“There’s reassurance from senior attorneys that they would hope partnership is everyone’s goal.”

Sources reckoned the path to partnership is “pretty well defined" at MWE: “My understanding is that it’s around the sixth year that you begin going through the partnership process. People are happy to talk to you about it as you get closer to that point.” Juniors were also encouraged to see “partners who started here as summer associates and have stuck with the firm long-term. There’s reassurance from senior attorneys that they would hope partnership is everyone’s goal.”

Culture, Diversity & Inclusion

Future opportunity is but one ingredient for employee happiness – McDermott’s wellbeing committeeis charged with looking after the others. “One of the directors in management is focused on employee happiness,” we heard. “The firm circulates a survey once a month or so, and you rate how happy you are in your role.” Helping the committee out, “associates all check in on each other to make sure everyone is okay. Just last week we had a senior associate who really needed a break and we strongly encouraged him to take the week off and not check his emails – we said we’d cover for him because his health is more important.” The firm also hosted a worldwide associates retreat in Colorado Springs which puts an emphasis on wellness. All this convinced our junior sources that “there’s a focus on quality of life at McDermott, which I appreciate.” Of course, being BigLaw, it’s not all fun and games: “All lawyers know it’s a high-stress job, but it’s valuable to have people who make you feel you’re always part of the team even early on.” 

"Even the chairman said that one of the biggest priorities at the firm is becoming more diverse.”

Interviewees were encouraged to see that “the firm is heavily invested in and actively working on” diversity and inclusion, especially among the top brass: “Even the chairman said that one of the biggest priorities at the firm is becoming more diverse.” Across offices and practices, sources reckoned McDermott is “pretty balanced in terms of men and women – there are also a good number of female attorneys in partnership and management roles.” Although incoming classes have become noticeably more diverse, sources pointed out that “attrition is inevitable and lateral hiring could do better on diversity.” The firm holds a diversity summit every year in its Chicago HQ where “the aim is to have an open and frank discussion about diversity and what can be done to improve it,” welcoming diverse attorneys from across the firm. MWE has “training specific to diversity and inclusion,” plus market-standard affinity groups and diversity committees.

Hours & Compensation

Billable hours: 2,000 requirement

Though bonus eligibility begins at 2,000 hours, 100 of those can come from pro bono; 75 hours from professional development (this includes training plus ‘tag-along hours’ – “if the client is more sensitive about how many people they’re billed for, but the matter is a good learning experience, you can use those hours with partner approval”); and even 25 hours dedicated to mindfulness. “You can use that time to do yoga or practice meditation, and the firm sometimes has speakers come in who explain how to incorporate mindfulness into your practice.” With all those hours counted, associates found the 2,000 goal to be “very achievable” and particularly appreciated the ability to bill mindfulness time.

“A lot of people seem to get above market compensation.”

On most days, Chicago juniors we interviewed arrived at the office bright and early between 8:30 and 9am; New York interviewees were more likely to get in at around 9:30 or 10am. Wherever they worked from, most McDermott sources usually got to leave the office by 7:30pm before “working for a couple of hours at home in the evening.” One interviewee estimated they worked “about ten to 11 hours a day, though not all of that would be billable.” Weighing it all up, juniors agreed that “at times it can be difficult to balance your personal life with your work commitments, but there are months where the balance is better. You have to adapt.” There was also a consensus, thankfully, that associates are well compensated for their efforts and “McDermott’s bonus system is moderately transparent. If you hit your hours, you get the market bonus, then anything beyond that is more discretionary; a lot of people seem to get above market compensation.”

Pro Bono

Happy to count 100 hours of pro bono toward their 2,000-hour target, associates clarified that all hours count as billable once they’ve surpassed their goal. Some reckoned “there aren’t as many pro bono opportunities on the transactional side; the pro bono practice skews toward litigation.” That said, juniors noted that “the firm encourages you to find your own pro bono project if you want, as long as you can enlist a partner to help.” McDermott works with organizations such as LGBTQ campaign group Freedom for All Americans, Lawyers for Children America, and the Lockhart Cemetery Association, which maintains a neglected historic African-American cemetery.

There was some variation by office: Chicago juniors worked with health law organizations on “research trying to figure out how certain benefits are classified with health insurance companies.” In DC, juniors assisted Human Rights First on immigration and asylum matters; New York sources worked with LGBTQ+ rights groups to challenge archaic concepts like conversion therapy.

Pro bono hours

  • For all US offices: 46,10
  • Average per US attorney: 93

Covid-19 Updates

McDermott has deferred its summer program in 2020: it will now take the form of a two week virtual bootcamp, running from July 13 to 24. The firm is not changing its hiring numbers and will offer permanent roles to all summer associates; there's also a $20,000 stipend available for participants in the program.

Get Hired

The first stage: recruitment on and off campus

OCI applicants interviewed:  1098

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,” 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. The firm also posts 'resume collects' at several schools and accepts write-in applications. There is also a focus on hiring clerks: “We seek to strengthen the breadth of experience our firm provides to its clients by hiring judicial clerks. We place a strong value on the experience provided by judicial clerkships and welcome applications from candidates looking for full-time positions following the completion of their clerkship.”

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 the candidate is interested in.

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.”  Hiring partners Allison Wilkerson and Lisa Schmitz Mazur.


Summer program

Offers: 129

Acceptances: 40

McDermott’s ten-week summer program gives summer associates “a realistic introduction to the practice of law and day-to-day life as a McDermott associate.” Summer associates are given the opportunity to accept assignments with many practice groups during the summer: “This allows summers to experience the type of work they are interested in first-hand and ultimately steers them toward the type of work they enjoy,” Wilkerson and Mazur explain. An assignment coordinator assists in collecting projects for summer associates and assigning them out to insure that summer associates are receiving projects that match their interests and enable them to maintain a balanced workload.

Summer associates also have access to McDermott Academy training throughout the program, which includes a mock negotiation and writing workshops: “We also prioritize experiential learning opportunities and it shows! Our summer associates partake in a variety of hands-on experiences such as court appearances, client meetings, legislative hearings, depositions, witness interviews, and bar association events,” say Wilkerson and Mazur. The Summer Associate Retreat brings together the summer class from all offices for three days of presentations from the firm's leadership, interactive trainings, and networking opportunities with their summer class and local office attorneys and staff. On the social side, Wilkerson and Mazur note that “recent event highlights include sporting events, sailing, Broadway shows, and concerts. As part of the summer program, each year we host an annual Summer Associate Retreat, with the retreat being held most recently in Chicago.”

The majority of summer associates return as juniors. 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 to solve the challenges our clients face on a day to day basis. Getting acquainted with attorneys across a variety of practice groups 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 “the interview process in general is a great opportunity to learn and grow.  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: 7 (plus a strategic alliance in Shanghai)
  • Worldwide revenue: $1, 172,113,892
  • Partners US: 473
  • Associates US: 290
  • Contacts 
  • Main recruitment contact: Erika Gardiner, Senior Legal Recruiting Manager (
  • Hiring partners: Allison Wilkerson, Lisa Schmitz Mazur 
  • Diversity officer: Anthony Upshaw, Global Head of Diversity & Inclusion
  • Recruitment details 
  • Entry-level associates starting in 2020: 34
  • Clerking policy: Yes
  • Summers joining/anticipated 2020: 45(1Ls: 4, 2Ls: 41)
  • Summers joining/anticipated 2020 split by office: Boston: 2, Chicago: 13, Los Angeles: 6, Miami: 5, New York: 6, San Francisco: 3; Washington, DC: 10
  • Summer salary 2020: 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

 McDermott Will & Emery is an integrated, international law firm with recognized strength in tax, private equity, mergers and acquisitions, health care, high-stakes litigation and many other key areas of transactional and regulatory law. We emphasize and foster long-term, industry-focused client relationships with multinational companies, rising entrepreneurial firms, investors and capital providers and many of the world’s wealthiest families and individuals. In word and deed, we value integrity, efficiency, diversity, pro bono and community service.


Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2020:
Boston College, Boston University, Columbia, Duke, George Washington. Georgetown University, Harvard, Michigan, Northwestern, Notre Dame, NYU, Stanford, University of California (Los Angeles, Berkeley), University of Chicago, University of Florida, University of Miami, University of Pennsylvania, University of Southern California, University of Texas, University of Virginia, Vanderbilt, Yale.

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.

Social media


This Firm's Rankings in
USA Guide, 2020

Ranked Departments

    • Healthcare (Band 1)
    • Litigation: General Commercial (Band 5)
    • Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations (Band 3)
    • Antitrust (Band 4)
    • Healthcare (Band 1)
    • Insurance: Insurer (Band 2)
    • Intellectual Property: Litigation (Band 4)
    • Intellectual Property: Trademark, Copyright & Trade Secrets (Band 2)
    • Tax (Band 3)
    • Healthcare (Band 1)
    • Tax (Band 3)
    • Corporate/M&A & Private Equity (Band 2)
    • 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)
    • 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)
    • Corporate/M&A: Highly Regarded (Band 4)
    • Insurance: Transactional & Regulatory (Band 3)
    • Tax (Band 4)
    • Tax (Band 4)
    • Technology: Outsourcing (Band 1)
    • Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation (Band 2)
    • Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation (Band 4)
    • Energy: Electricity (Regulatory & Litigation) (Band 2)
    • Food & Beverages: Alcohol (Band 1)
    • Healthcare (Band 1)
    • Life Sciences (Band 4)
    • Outsourcing (Band 2)
    • Privacy & Data Security (Band 4)
    • Privacy & Data Security: Healthcare Spotlight Table
    • Tax: Controversy (Band 3)
    • Tax: Corporate & Finance (Band 3)