McDermott Will & Emery LLP - The Inside View

When it comes to matters of health and wealth, Chicago’s McDermott is a frontrunner and stands out for its emphasis on associate development. 

There are a few areas that spring to mind when someone mentions Chicago’s McDermott: among them are a leading healthcare practice, expertise in the food and beverages sectors and a significant private wealth contingent. Behind the work was a consistent theme that drove our interviewees through McDermott’s doors: “They really want to be the number-one career accelerator for you,” noted one source, commenting on the firm’s approach to associate development. “McDermott has great programming to help with the transition to becoming more client-facing,” said another, while this interviewee summarized that “the firm just seemed really focused on the professional development of its associates – everyone I spoke with valued this over how many billable hours were churned out!” 

So, professional development resources?Tick.Chambers USA  accolades? Multiple ticks. On a nationwide scale, McDermott is simply the best for healthcare work (as its assistance with the launch of the Merck Digital Sciences Studio to support biomedical startups shows), but in Chicago the firm also flies high when it comes to IP, tax, labor and employment, white-collar crime litigation, antitrust, and corporate work. Strengths elsewhere include insurance in DC, technology across Texas, and corporate work in Florida. Chambers High Net Worth also bestows many a top private wealth ranking on the firm across locations and deems it to be one of the best in the country for family offices and fund structuring matters. Location-wise, the largest group of associates on our list were based in Chicago, but the DC and California offices also housed a significant number. 

McDermott is a Top 10 firm for associate retention and three other categories in our 2023 survey.

Career Development  

Many a junior told us that McDermott is “focused on your legal practice skill set” and builds it via a combo of mentoring and formal programming. Associates are given 25 professional development hours per year to use on a variety of speaker sessions and shadowing opportunities. The “partners are also eager to help you with pitches and presentations – it’s treated as a big priority,” a source pointed out. Associates also take part in McDermott University, which delivers sessions every week on both general and specialist areas of practice: “You can pick up a load of ancillary knowledge on the corporate side – the firm gets external accountants to come in and give training on financials. Being able to read those documents is so helpful when you’re about to talk to the CFO of a billion-dollar company!” 

“Many people make it to the income partner level.” 

Career progression is “similar here to other firms, in that after four or five years, people start to consider their priorities.” However, sources did feel that McDermott’s approach to attorney development and retention have led to it “not having a burnout and churn system.” McDermott’s partnership model was cited as a good draw for those with long-term aspirations. “In the US it’s a two-tier partnership,” so associates with the drive and skills can potentially make income partner after six years. “Many people make it to the income partner level,” we were told, “and from there you can progress to the capital partner level if you develop your own business.” 

The Work  

At McDermott, “the assignments are fairly doled out and there’s no dead weight!” However, centralized assignment systems are not relied on at the firm, and instead a free-market system is in place: “Except we don’t use that term – it is an organic process.” That organic process had worked out well for our sources, who highlighted that they “basically pick and choose the work I want – I work with a lot of different partners and I’ll ask for depositions or trial experience. I also feel very comfortable saying no to work.” This junior agreed that the system is effective and told us how “it encourages you to be proactive and build relationships up with people.”  

“I love fraud – not perpetrating it but investigating and litigating it!” 

“I didn’t want to get pigeonholed into a specialty,” a litigator told us, and at McDermott it sounds like there’s little chance of that happening in its litigation practice: “You can work on a huge range of cases, spanning professional liability, crypto, white-collar, healthcare, bankruptcy and energy litigation. I love fraud – not perpetrating it but investigating and litigating it!” The plus points of being a litigator at McDermott included being able to “throw yourself into each case, whether it’s to do with magnesium production in plants or electrical engineering – every case has new facts and a new story to tell.” There’s also a lot of cross-office engagement on cases, with the Boston, New York, and DC offices reportedly working closely together on white-collar matters. “A lot of collaboration happens because we might have clients who, for example, do a deal in Miami and then get sued in New York. We also do a lot of bankruptcy work, so there’s often a case with our Delaware office in the mix.” Juniors are tasked with doing the initial draft of motions and receive “a lot of work on actual investigations, which involves prepping witnesses and interacting with the client. You get as much as you can handle or ask for – there’s no end to what you get to do.” 

Litigation clients: BDO USA, DaVita, Southern Illinois Healthcare. Represented Outform after it was sued for alleged fraud and breach of contract tied to its sale of iDisplay temperature kiosks during the pandemic. 

McDermott’s corporate and transactional remit spans capital markets, M&A, private equity, tech transactions, and structured finance work. Here, “the partners will teach you the ropes and show you how they like things done, so there’s continuity in the service we provide,” a source informed us. “I’ve been able to work with people across all the offices in the US, as well as many in the European bases, too.” Interviewees had found themselves working on “large strategic acquisitions in the US and globally” and explained that “some of the deals can be pretty large – up to a billion dollars!” There’s also the chance “to advise company founders on the sale of their companies.” If mergers are of interest, then the firm’s antitrust group provides ample room to work on matters “where merger investigations are taking place or situations where a merger transaction is being reviewed by a government agency. The firm overall is top ranked for healthcare, so we see a lot of mergers between hospitals and subsequent investigations.” 

Corporate clients: Avesi Partners, Baxter International, Cleveland Clinic. Represented H.I.G. Capital during its sale of Valtris Specialty Chemicals to SK Capital Partners.  

“They are absolutely the highest high net worth individuals in the world!” 

The private client department is “a significant practice at McDermott – it accounts for a good chunk of the firm’s billings!” an associate enthused. Another told us that McDermott’s private client lawyers are “the world-beaters in this area – if you do trusts and estates here then your resume is going to be great!” We heard that the Chicago office does “a lot more private trust company work,” while “the DC base has more work on an international scale, so there are some differences in expertise between locations.” On the international side, sources had been helping “foreign individuals who have children to move to the US, but I’m also planning the succession of their interests and facilitating their trusts in the most tax-efficient way.” Around “20% of the questions we answer come from our tax practice, as their work also involves individuals.” Others had been helping to create private trust companies and doing “corporate work – like M&A – within a trust structure, which is labor-intensive!” How high net worth are the individuals that seek McDermott’s expertise? “They are absolutely the highest high net worth individuals in the world!” 

Pro Bono  

Although associates need approval to do more than 100 hours of pro bono, “that’s pretty much always granted.” A few insiders told us that “it can be hard to balance billables with pro bono, as you might take on one pro bono case and then a week later get slammed with a matter! But there are ways to take on smaller pro bono assignments that still have impact.” A number of juniors told us that they often attend immigration clinics – “we seem to take quite a few immigration matters to the Supreme Court” – but beyond this, assignments were fairly broad in scope. We heard about landlord-tenant, veterans, animal rights, and LGBTQ+ discrimination matters. “It’s really cool to take ownership of a case – one associate took on an arbitration all by themselves!” a source told us. 

Pro bono hours  

  • For all US attorneys:  undisclosed
  • Average per attorney: undisclosed   

Hours & Compensation  

Billable hours: 2,000 target  

Every junior we spoke with gave McDermott high praise for its “above and beyond” compensation, both with regard to its hours-based bonus and merit-based bonuses. “They pay well above the Cravath bonus scale consistently! And nobody knows that!” one junior exclaimed (they do now). We heard that “if you go above the hours target you can get massive bonuses – I’ve made two to three times market every year,” another associate declared proudly, “so I would quit if it was lockstep!” Of course, associates did warn that to get to these amounts “you have to work hard – if you work for it, the compensation can be huge.” The good news for those who are looking to rack up the hours is that “there’s never a shortage of work,” with the key to success being healthy client and partner relationships: “Everyone likes familiarity, so once you build those relationships, you’re good.” 

“...we get 25 hours of mindfulness credit, which encourages us to meditate...” 

In typical BigLaw fashion, the hours can be long, but “people care about work/life balance” so juniors aren’t forced to work at unreasonable times: “I do frequently work at the weekend and in the evening,” an ambitious source admitted, “but you don’t have to! And vacation is really encouraged.” Thankfully, “there’s also no micromanagement,” so associates feel a good sense of flexibility in terms of when and where they get their work done. In addition, “we get 25 hours of mindfulness credit, which encourages us to meditate, go on walks, or do any activity that gives us a mental break – the fact that they give us credit and spend money on this shows that they value it.” 


“It’ll sound like I’ve swallowed the marketing!” one junior warned us, before continuing: “There’s a lot of transparency which is top down and starts with our chairman, Ira.” Both ‘transparency’ and the firm’s chairman, Ira Coleman, cropped up a number of times over our conversations with juniors about culture. “It’s not just about getting to the top of the deal table,” an insider explained. “It’s about creating an environment that people want to work in, and Ira sets a great vibe for that – he’s super approachable and is taking the firm in the right direction.” Besides McDermott’s esteemed and personable “sweatpants and sweatshirt-wearing” leader setting the tone, the firm also has a “strong teaching culture.” Juniors described how “the partners spend a lot of time trying to develop associates; they’ve tried to train me and impart their knowledge and experience, and they’ve valued my input.”  

“...all these collaborative spaces are meaningful.” 

Across the offices, McDermott also has a “no asshole rule, which makes for a really nice culture!”  There are some subtle differences between the locations though. New York and Miami were described as “pretty chill,” but Chicago, DC, and Boston were felt to be “maybe a tad more conservative, at least on the litigation side, and the Delaware office feels a bit more hierarchical.” With the social side, we heard that offices have been trying to lure people back in through events such as the Wednesday lunch in the Boston office, but juniors indicated that their practice could also shape their social experience. Litigation in particular was flagged as a practice where “people will go out every once in a while – we have karaoke, everyone gets merry and has a good time, and the partners become your friends.” On a firmwide basis, interviewees spoke of a global associate retreat where “they flew us all across to LA for three days, which was a lot of fun as we got to meet our colleagues from Europe.” Regular associate-wide meetings also presented opportunities to socialize and effect change: “The juniors, mid-years and seniors all take part and we put vocal people in charge to take things to firm leadership.” This resulted in associates hearing the points they’d raised in town hall meetings with the broader firm. That “top-down initiative and level of grassroots feedback” were cultural aspects that juniors appreciated, as “all these collaborative spaces are meaningful – it’s great to see things come from those conversations.”  

Diversity, Equity & Inclusion  

Although our sources weren’t sure how active affinity groups are, we were told that DE&I initiatives do play a part in shaping McDermott’s culture through various sub-committees, and “the firm builds a lot of goodwill with that.” There was no doubting the intent behind McDermott’s diversity initiatives and policies: “In terms of effort they are world-beaters,” a source declared. Another felt that “the commitment to hiring diverse candidates has been much clearer,” and this junior said that “they’re working not just on hiring more diverse classes but how to keep diverse lawyers at the firm.” 

“The cumulative value of that is significant.” 

Interviewees were also pleased that the firm had upped their billable DE&I credit to 25 hours: “The cumulative value of that is significant.” Juniors gave kudos to McDermott for its support of minorities both inside and outside of the firm, with many pointing to the Rise program: it was launched in 2020 and provides pro bono support to entrepreneurs of color and minority-run businesses: “We’re allotted billable hours to help out with the expertise we have,” a source was happy to tell us. 

Strategy & Future  

“There’s a significant level of transparency here,” said one associate, which was a claim backed up by several other interviewees. “Ira Coleman does town hall meetings around once a month and everyone can join – he talks about current events, finances, and priorities for the firm going forward,” another told us, while this junior explained that they “can see how much a client is generating and how much we’re charging and collecting.”  

“They want to invest in what we have.” 

So, what are the priorities? “With the current economic climate, we’ll be focusing on reaffirming our existing client relationships and cross-selling services between our practices,” one well-informed associate reported. “They want to invest in what we have,” said another, “and we’re not the type of firm that would make short-sighted cuts.” 

Get Hired

The first stage: recruitment on and off campus   

OCI applicants interviewed: 915 

Interviewees outside OCI:  95 

“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.” –Lisa Richman and Eric Gilbert, national hiring partners  


Applicants invited to second stage interview: 535  

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 Richman and Gilbert 

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.” Richman and Gilbert 

Summer program   

Offers: 204  

Acceptances: 96  

For 2022, McDermott is thrilled to welcome its largest summer class and return to an in-person program. However, the firm will support flexible work arrangements for their summer associates, just as they do for full-time attorneys and business professionals. McDermott’s program offers substantive work assignments, formal and informal mentoring, training programs, and social activities. The firm will also host a firmwide summer associate retreat in its Chicago office.  

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.” –Richman and Gilbert 

And finally…   

Richman and Gilbert 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

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 2022:
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, 2023

Ranked Departments

    • Healthcare (Band 1)
    • Labor & Employment: The Elite (Band 4)
    • Life Sciences (Band 4)
    • Litigation: General Commercial: Highly Regarded (Band 2)
    • Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations (Band 4)
    • Tax: State & Local (Band 1)
    • Chancery (Band 3)
    • Antitrust (Band 4)
    • Healthcare (Band 1)
    • Healthcare: Pharmaceutical/Medical Products Regulatory (Band 4)
    • Insurance: Insurer (Band 2)
    • Intellectual Property: Litigation (Band 5)
    • Tax (Band 2)
    • Healthcare (Band 1)
    • Tax (Band 2)
    • Corporate/M&A & Private Equity (Band 2)
    • Corporate/M&A (Band 4)
    • Antitrust (Band 2)
    • Banking & Finance (Band 3)
    • Bankruptcy/Restructuring (Band 4)
    • 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)
    • Labor & Employment: Highly Regarded (Band 1)
    • Litigation: General Commercial (Band 3)
    • Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations (Band 2)
    • Tax (Band 1)
    • Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation (Band 2)
    • Healthcare (Band 1)
    • Intellectual Property (Band 3)
    • Litigation: General Commercial (Band 4)
    • Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations (Band 1)
    • Bankruptcy/Restructuring: The Elite (Band 6)
    • Corporate/M&A: Highly Regarded (Band 4)
    • Healthcare (Band 4)
    • Insurance: Transactional & Regulatory (Band 3)
    • Litigation: General Commercial: Highly Regarded (Band 5)
    • Real Estate: Mainly Corporate & Finance (Band 5)
    • Real Estate: Mainly Dirt (Band 5)
    • Tax (Band 4)
    • Tax: State & Local (Band 1)
    • Corporate/M&A: Highly Regarded (Band 1)
    • Technology: Outsourcing (Band 1)
    • Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation (Band 2)
    • Antitrust (Band 4)
    • Corporate/M&A: Highly Regarded (Band 3)
    • Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation (Band 3)
    • Energy: Electricity (Regulatory & Litigation) (Band 2)
    • ERISA Litigation (Band 3)
    • False Claims Act (Band 3)
    • Food & Beverages: Alcohol (Band 2)
    • Government Contracts: The Elite (Band 4)
    • 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 (Band 1)
    • Privacy & Data Security: The Elite (Band 4)
    • Private Equity: Buyouts: Mid-Market (Band 3)
    • Private Equity: Fund Formation (Band 4)
    • Product Liability: Toxic Torts (Band 1)
    • Projects: Power & Renewables: Transactional (Band 3)
    • Projects: Renewables & Alternative Energy (Band 4)
    • Tax: Controversy (Band 3)
    • Tax: Corporate & Finance (Band 3)