A move to New York's trendy Hudson Yards development is “ushering in a new era of Milbank being cool,” say juniors at this esteemed Wall Street-rooted firm.
“I THINK that this whole thing about us being 'white-shoe' is ridiculous!” one source asserted with a polite but slightly exasperated guffaw. “That's a dated preconception!” roared others, offering a consensus that any association of the firm with blanched footwear and stuffiness should be ditched once and for all. This reputation stems from an illustrious history that has seen Milbank advise some of New York's most prominent families (like the Rockefellers and the Vanderbilts) and financial institutions (like Chase Manhattan Bank, as it was previously known). Status and prestige mean that “a lot of people expect the firm to be very aggressive, but the culture here is actually quite benign,” interviewees declared, eager to get the truth out there.
“Our Wall Street roots don't fit so much anymore.”
They hoped that Milbank's upcoming move to the oh-so-hip Hudson Yards development in November 2018 would finally dislodge these outdated associations. Chairman Scott Edelman tells us that “the firm has been based downtown for 150 years, and now we're moving to one of the coolest new neighborhoods in New York. Milbank is a contemporary modern law firm and our Wall Street roots don’t fit so much anymore. We are moving to a space that is consistent with the Milbank of today.”
The Milbank of today is a global outfit with 12 offices placed strategically across the US, Europe, Asia and Latin America. Despite this coverage, sources were quick to distance Milbank from “the mega-global law firms like Skadden and Paul, Weiss. We tackle the same quality of work but as the firm's intake is a lot smaller it makes it feel more intimate.” That quality of work is celebrated in Chambers USA, which deems Milbank a nationwide force to be reckoned with in the world of projects; other areas of note include Milbank's aviation finance and bankruptcy/restructuring capabilities. Its general commercial litigation and corporate/M&A practices are ranked in the 'elite' and 'highly regarded' categories, respectively.
Strategy & Offices
It's fair to say that our sources (the vast majority of whom were based in the New York HQ) were more than just a little bit excited about the move. “It will definitely be a shock in terms of modernization!” they exclaimed, especially because “some of the technology here feels slightly outdated.” One interviewee cited Milbank's current digs at 28 Liberty Street as their “main criticism of the firm, as the office structure can sometimes inhibit cooperativeness.” That's all set to change though, as Edelman reveals that “one of our goals is to create a more unified culture through the new space. We want to create some common areas that will allow our employees to bump into each other, to meet and communicate and conduct business.”
At the same time, sources felt that the firm was already pretty unified across its domestic locations. “We don't have New York Milbankers or LA Milbankers. We are all just Milbankers,” one proud associate declared, offering a summary that could serve well as Milbank's latest advertising slogan. “The offices very much feel like different floors of the same building rather than three different locations.” Around 20% of the second and third-year juniors on our list were based in Milbank's LA and DC offices.
What about the cumulative effect of these offices' recent efforts? “We've been continuing to build on our past successes and have had another great year,” says Edelman. In particular, he highlights the firm's civil litigation, financial restructuring and global projects practices as booming groups, while the firm's white-collar and investigations work is currently “one of our most exciting growth areas.”
Milbank's current first years are the “test subjects” for a new system which allows budding transactional lawyers in New York to rotate through three (out of seven) deal-oriented groups for four months at a time. Work across most groups is allocated via a dedicated assigning partner. “We send over weekly availability reports, and it's nice to have someone looking at your schedule – it means there isn't too much pressure to take on too much,” a corporate source told us. Litigators also “preferred the set-up to going out and having to hunt for work,” while those in leveraged finance relayed that “it's a little less formal here: if you like working with someone and they like working with you, then not everything has to go through the centralized system – the assignment partner is more there to fill the gaps.”
The firm's litigation group housed the most juniors on our list. “The group takes in everything,” said sources here, describing a mix of work that spanned “big bankruptcies, regulatory matters, probate work, commodities-based class actions and even IP stuff.” Chambers USA praises the group's work on a range of commercial, securities and white-collar matters, and clients here include private equity funds, global investment banks and individual investors. “It's a new step every day,” litigators revealed. “They keep you at a good pace, and once you've mastered something you move onto something else.” One expanded for us: “For sure, there's doc review, but you also get to do legal research to ascertain the counterarguments we can put together; you get to review depositions to see how different parties interact and you can take a first stab at drafting motions and declarations.”
“There are a lot of elements to deals that make them interesting.”
“We do everything domestically and abroad,” said juniors in Milbank's large global project, energy and infrastructure finance group, “whether it's financing gas-processing facilities, or building roads and ports, or developing solar plants and wind farms.” A lot of the matters here are tied to projects in Latin America, and interviewees had worked on deals occurring in Mexico, Guatemala, Chile and Colombia. As they entered their third year, sources were “expected to start drafting the core finance agreements” and enjoyed the fact that “there are a lot of elements to deals that make them interesting; you're coordinating with local counsel and tons of parties, including sponsors, lenders, suppliers, government agencies, environmental consultants and engineers.”
Government investigations, civil lawsuits and a ton of regulations to get acquainted with – this is the complex brew of elements securities litigators have to skillfully navigate. Milbank's specialists walk us through it>>
Other transactional groups with a fair number of juniors included global corporate and global leveraged finance. “There are no designated first, second and third-year tasks,” those in corporate told us; “it's very much a meritocracy.” They added: “We do a lot more private than public deals, especially in the energy sector. Even as a first year I was able to take on a lot, which was very daunting, but I felt well supported.” It's a similar story in leveraged finance, where “our bread and butter is acquisitions, and the players are financial institutions and equity firms. As a junior I get my hands dirty by doing first drafts of credit agreements and term sheets. If you're willing to step up and take it on, no one will refuse you on the basis of your year.”
Despite the withdrawal of Milbank's fellowship scheme (which allowed associates to take on three months of uninterrupted pro bono work) sources were adamant that the firm hadn't waned in its commitment to this noble pursuit: “The assumption is that if you're not busy you'll take on pro bono matters. They have increased the minimum requirement to 25 hours and placed an emphasis on everyone doing a bit more throughout the year. Plus there's no cap on how many hours you want to commit to pro bono – it's all billable.”
The firm also makes an extra effort to accommodate individual preferences: “When I expressed an interest in holding governments to account for abuses of power, they had a case prepared for me within the week,” one dedicated junior reported. Matters are circulated weekly via an email that's sent out by Milbank's pro bono director. Our interviewees had worked on immigration, adoption, name change, disability benefits and death penalty matters. The firm's Advocacy@Milbank program (see below) also gives all first-year litigators an opportunity to represent individuals in appellate matters.
Pro bono hours
- For all US attorneys: 44,215
- Average per US attorney: 86
Training & Development
This year's cohort were also keen to highlight Milbank's commitment to training: “They don't just pay lip service to it. This is a firm that spends a lot of time and money developing you as a lawyer.” It all kicks off with the 'Windstar' training scheme for summer associates: it's a ten-week program which charts the life-cycle of a hypothetical company (Windstar) from inception and financing through to bankruptcy and restructuring. Just before they start for real, all new juniors descend on the New York HQ for a week of orientation, which “covers all the IT stuff and gives you a sense of what to expect.”
“This is a firm that spends a lot of time and money developing you as a lawyer.”
From then on “training is very group-specific: some have very regular CLEs, while others take a more informal approach, which involves juniors sitting down with the seniors on deals and having a stab at something.” Sources in the projects group had experienced the latter approach, while those in corporate praised their “group-specific CLEs, where we talk about specific agreements, provisions and developments in the law.” Litigators were also pleased, and flagged the benefits of a two-day deposition training in New York, which is part of the firm's Advocacy@Milbank program (this provides juniors with sessions on various skills – like persuasive writing and oral argument – from the first through to the sixth year).
However, the centerpiece of Milbank's training scheme arrives in the third year, when all associates are enrolled on the Milbank@Harvard program: “We go to Harvard for a week, and attend sessions presented by professors from the business and law schools – it gives you a good financial and business background to supplement the work that you're doing.”
Interviewees felt that “overall there's a big culture of being welcoming and warm,” which sits in stark contrast to “the stereotypes you hear about with regards to what New York firms are like.” Praise was bestowed on chairman Scott Edelman for “trying to cultivate a Milbank culture as a whole. For years Milbank has been viewed as stuffy and old-school, but Scott has been pushing the firm away from that and ushering in a new era of Milbank being cool. While we respect and appreciate our roots in Wall Street, we know that we can't rest on our laurels and not move forward.” Alongside the upcoming move to Hudson Yards, juniors cited a newly-instated 'jeans Friday' and the firm's spring party as signs of a cooler direction: “Last year's was held at the Whitney Museum, which is located in the hip meatpacking district – it was quite a step away from the typical formal party.”
Hours & Compensation
“It can't be overstated how important it is not to have billable hours targets,” juniors told us. This interviewee spoke for many when they said: “This month, for example, has been a bit slower, and not having to worry about targets has been great. Having billable goals means that you're stressed when you're super busy and stressed when you're not. This way is better for group mentality and it means that we can focus on the quality of the work we're doing.”
“...the unpredictability is just part of the job.”
“Even if there was a target we'd hit it,” sources added, pointing to plenty of work and potentially long hours. Corporate sources said: “Our time tends to ebb and flow more, so some weeks can be very tiring. Today I got in around 9.30am and I have no idea when I will leave; the unpredictability is just part of the job.” Litigators, meanwhile, were “generally working 40 to 50 hours a week, with some 60-hour stretches – on monster matters you need to check your emails constantly!” Thankfully, Milbank has done “a good job of reforming the tech systems to make working from home just like working in the office.” All first years are given new laptops and iPhones to make remote working easier. “They are good about where you work. At 6.30pm I'll go home and pick it up from there – you just work as long as you need to get stuff done.”
“It doesn't feel un-diverse,” was a typical response to questions on this topic. At the same time, juniors felt that “there's still some way to go.” One area flagged for improvement was gender diversity, with juniors in groups like projects and litigation citing a lack of female representation in the partnership. “The building blocks are there,” however, with female interviewees highlighting the efforts of the Women@Milbank affinity group: “Our monthly meetings are fantastic – our female partners take three hours out of their day to talk to us. Part of it is about bonding and part of it is about mentoring.” There are also affinity groups for Latin American, Asian Pacific Islander and LGBT attorneys, as well as a dedicated group for associates of African descent (aADAM).
Hiring partner Rod Miller tells us that the “vast majority of associates are recruited from the top 25 national law schools.” However, outside of the top bracket of universities there's still room for “those at the top of their class or high performers who are geographically near our offices,” Miller clarifies. “There are also a couple of Canadian law schools that we actively seek resumes from. In addition to our law school recruitment program we have a clerkship recruitment program that is mainly litigation focused.” Miller stresses that Milbank's recruitment process incorporates all five of its affinity groups in order to boost diversity. Results seem to have been paying off, as Miller points out: “Our most recent summer class was the most diverse we have ever had – the majority were women and nearly half were diverse.”
Of the approximately 1,300 students who were interviewed on campus in 2017, Miller estimates that 200 received offers. Of those, just 59 lucky candidates managed to bag a place in the firm's summer program: 47 in New York, four in Washington, DC and eight in Los Angeles. For the first time, interviews were conducted by a panel which paired associates with partners: “We found that the input from associates and the observations they made were extremely helpful. The panels we put together were deliberately diverse; having a female litigation partner paired with a male transactional associate is a great combination, for example.”
Milbank's interviewers opt not to “follow a set, published line of questioning,” Miller explains. “Instead we ask our interviewers to look at a candidate's resume and pull out areas where we can gauge their intelligence, analytical skills and interests outside of the firm. Those with great interests outside of academia tend to perform better and have a greater life-span with the firm.” Milbank's current juniors also offered some advice: “The more you can familiarize yourself with what the firm does, the better – be specific and avoid saying general things like you have a broad interest in banking and litigation.” Miller expands upon this, and praises candidates “who can, for example, not only observe the fact that Milbank's litigation practice is growing off the back of our white-collar crime and investigation work, but can also explain how this presents opportunities for their personal career goals.”
The hallmark of Milbank's summer program is its rotation system, which allows students to rotate through up to three of the firm's practice areas. “I loved the summer program,” one junior enthused. “Going into it I was set on doing litigation but after seeing the transactional side I changed my mind!” Miller also highlights the emphasis placed on providing feedback: “We give real-time feedback on all of the work conducted by summers, and we also provide a formal midsummer review which consists of more detailed feedback from the mentors that our summers were assigned at the start of the program.” Summers also have two lunches a week dedicated to educational programs, which include the 'Windstar' training program that guides summers through the life-cycle of a fictional company.
Interview with chairman Scott Edelman
Chambers Associate: How has Milbank been performing lately?
Scott Edelman: We've been continuing to build on our past successes and have had another great year. Our litigation output has been exceptionally strong, and on the civil litigation side of things we've had multiple successful trials this year. Our white-collar defense and investigations practice has also been very busy with a number of significant internal, government and board-level investigations. That has been one of our most exciting growth areas. Our financial restructuring practice continues to be very strong, as does our global infrastructure and energy group, which continues to work on major cross-border transactions.
Beyond that we continue to focus on our attorney development and training initiatives, which are fronted by our Milbank@Harvard and Advocacy@Milbank programs. Last year we also adopted our transactional rotation program, which has been a great success.
CA: Can you tell us about Milbank's upcoming move to the Hudson Yards development?
SE: I think our move to Hudson Yards is probably the most exciting thing we have going on here at the moment. The firm has been based downtown for 150 years, and now we're moving to one of the coolest new neighborhoods in New York. It's a brand new development that's currently under construction. Across the road there's going to be a flagship Equinox hotel, one of New York's newest and best shopping malls, a subway station that opens in front of the building, and a concert hall. All of this fits together to make the development a real cultural center. Skadden is also moving into another part of the neighborhood and I think a lot of firms will soon follow suit. We are going to build out the space in a very contemporary way, and the move will transform the whole firm.
CA: How do you think the move will affect the firm's culture?
SE: Milbank is a contemporary modern law firm and our Wall Street roots don’t fit so much anymore. We are moving to a space that is consistent with the Milbank of today. One of our goals is to create a more unified culture through the new space. We want to create some common areas that will allow our employees to bump into each other, to meet and communicate and conduct business. The transactional rotation system is another example of our push to create a more unified culture, as is our Milbank@Harvard program, which brings our associates from around the world together and gives them an opportunity to get to know each other.
CA: What are the benefits of allowing junior associates to spend time doing pro bono work?
SE: The firm has a long history of wanting to give back to the people around us who are less fortunate, and we believe that it is part of a lawyer's responsibility to give back to the community. It is something that has been ingrained in the firm for a long time and we tend to attract people who believe in its value. One of its side benefits is that it enables our lawyers to develop essential skills. All of our first-year litigators in New York are given the opportunity to represent individuals in a criminal appellate court. I did it myself as a young lawyer and found it to be extremely valuable; to get up before a five-person appellate court and argue a case is a great experience. Our partners routinely host a moot court before people argue their cases so they feel very supported.
CA: What is Milbank doing to improve diversity?
SE: I’ve been doing this job for four years now, and I've made it clear to all of our partners and associates that it's a personal focus of mine to improve our numbers. We have a women’s initiative committee that has developed a number of programs to improve enhancement and retention. We are pleased to report that we are seeing signs of improvement. Sixty percent of our 2017 partner class were women, our 2017 and 2018 first-year associate classes are majority women, and six women have joined the partnership in 2018 thus far.
55 Hudson Yards,
- Head Office: New York, NY
- Number of domestic offices: 3
- Number of international offices: 9
- Worldwide revenue: $916,538,000
- Partners (US): 114
- Counsel (US): 29
- Associates (US): 356
- Main recruitment contact: Ann Bjornstad (firstname.lastname@example.org)
- Hiring partner: Rod Miller
- Diversity officer: Salila Yohn
- Recruitment details
- Entry-level associates starting in 2018: 79
- Clerking policy: Yes
- Summers joining/anticipated 2018: 1Ls: 2, 2Ls: 59, 3Ls: 0, SEO: 2
- Summers joining/anticipated 2018 split by office: NY 49, LA 8, Washington, DC 4
- Summer salary 2018: 1Ls: $ 3,462 2Ls: $ 3,462
- Split summers offered? No
- Can summers spend time in an overseas office? Yes
Main areas of work
Albany, Berkeley, Boston University, Cardozo, Chicago, Columbia, Cornell Job Fair, Duke, Emory Job Fair, Fordham, Georgetown, George Washington, Harvard, Howard, Lavender Law Job Fair, Loyola Los Angeles (LA), Michigan, Midwest-California-Georgia Recruiting Consortium, New York University, New York Law School, Northwestern, Pennsylvania, Stanford, St. John’s, Texas Job Fair, Tulane/Washington University Job Fair, UCI (LA), UCLA (LA), USC (LA), Vanderbilt, Virginia, Yale
Recruitment outside OCIs:
Our 1L Diversity Fellowship Program hires exceptionally talented 1L students for the New York office and we begin accepting applications for the following summer on December 1st. Milbank actively recruits judicial clerks from courts in the United States and from the Supreme Court of Canada.
Summer associate profile:
We are looking for summer associates with diverse backgrounds who demonstrate a high level of intelligence, creativity, leadership, determination and enthusiasm.
Summer program components:
Milbank’s summer program is a microcosm of life at the firm. Professional development is fundamental to the program, and our comprehensive summer-long training program follows a company’s lifecycle from inception to restructuring. Summer associates rotate through practice groups and are assigned partner and associate mentors who help ensure direct exposure to the firm’s work and culture. Summer associates receive constructive and substantive feedback from partners at mid-summer and end-of-summer reviews.
This Firm's Rankings in
USA Guide, 2019
- Bankruptcy/Restructuring (Band 2)
- Bankruptcy/Restructuring (Band 1)
- Corporate/M&A: Highly Regarded (Band 3)
- Litigation: General Commercial: The Elite (Band 4)
- Litigation: Securities (Band 3)
- Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations (Band 3)
- Real Estate: Mainly Corporate & Finance (Band 3)
- Tax (Band 3)
USA - Nationwide
- Banking & Finance (Band 2)
- Bankruptcy/Restructuring (Band 2)
- Capital Markets: Securitisation (Band 4)
- Projects: Mining & Metals (Band 1)
- Projects: Oil & Gas (Band 2)
- Projects: Power (Band 1)
- Projects: Power & Renewables: Transactional (Band 1)
- Projects: PPP (Band 2)
- Projects: Renewables & Alternative Energy (Band 1)
- Tax: Corporate & Finance (Band 4)
- Transportation: Aviation: Finance (Band 1)