You can bank on this firm navigating both the boom and bust times well, thanks to its countercyclical practices and world-leading projects and restructuring expertise.
If someone says ‘Milbank’ you’ll probably think of the firm’s reputation as a trendsetter when it comes to BigLaw associate compensation; when Milbank decides it's time to up salaries, the rest of the market is often quick to follow its lead. But there’s much more to this firm than its first-mover status. “It offers a healthy combination of old and new,” partner Alex Lees reflects, adding: “It’s a firm with a long history and deep roots in Wall Street, but Milbank gives the sense of being something new and on an upward trajectory.” Milbank has certainly had an image revamp in recent years, shedding any lingering associations with ‘white-shoe firm’ fustiness and ushering in a slick, modern era from its digs in the trendy Hudson Yards complex in Midtown Manhattan. “We even shortened the firm name!” Lees quips.
“We cover all of it and have an unmatched project finance offering as well as a world-class restructuring team.”
What does remain from its past is positive: “The firm has always had a strong position in the market, clients know who we are, and our reputation is stellar,” Lees explains. “We are a classic full-service New York law firm. We cover all of it and have an unmatched project finance offering as well as a world-class restructuring team.” These two areas receive top-billing status in Chambers USA, alongside high-flying practices like banking and finance, capital markets, white-collar crime and government investigations, and aviation-focused finance work. What’s more, this reputation has been honed with a relatively modest domestic offering consisting of three offices in New York, DC, and LA. Milbank’s office count is greater overseas, where it maintains nine bases in key financial centers across Asia and Europe.
TOP READ: Becoming a project finance lawyer - the view form Milbank
“This is a firm with financial strength,” observed one associate, “and if there’s a recession, I feel like I would be in a better position here.” Others agreed that the firm’s perceived stability was a significant draw alongside its prestige: “I wanted a firm with a good transactional practice but also practices that would get it through bad times, like bankruptcy. Milbank would be the last firm to make cuts!”
Strategy & Future
What is the firm’s overarching strategy? “To be new,” declares Lees, while explaining that Milbank takes an opportunistic and flexible approach to growth: “We just want to keep utilizing our reputation to take up opportunities as and when they present themselves.” This is especially true when it comes to opportunistic lateral hires that match areas Milbank has earmarked for expansion. Lees acknowledges that “there’s a lot of uncertainty in the market due to macro trends and the war in Ukraine,” which has impacted deal-flow across the legal sector. “However, we have counter-cyclical practices,” says Lees. “We have our litigation and restructuring groups, so we’ve felt the benefit of being a well-rounded law firm.” Sources confirmed that “litigation is super-hot right now, with the economy and current political situation. We’re seeing a lot more enforcement and regulatory work, as well as a lot more cyber and crypto cases.” We also heard that restructuring work has been taking off in recent months as well.
The majority of the associates on our list were based in the New York HQ, but there were a handful spread across the DC and LA offices as well. Over half on the list were in the litigation practice group, with the global corporate and projects groups taking on a sizable chunk of the remainder. A few were working in groups like financial restructuring, transportation and space, and global leveraged finance. Each group tended to have assignment coordinators on hand to help divvy up the work, which was especially welcomed by first-year associates who were finding their feet. “In litigation, our assignment coordinator is great and helps people to do the cases they want,” enthused a junior. “You can put in your preferences, and they never assigned me cases in areas I wasn’t interested in!”
“...you can have your finger in many pies!”
Litigation juniors start as generalists and “never formally specialize,” which means “you can have your finger in many pies!” One source explained that “our work spans civil, commercial, securities and white-collar litigation, as well as antitrust and IP matters.” The department got the thumbs-up because “no one has issues with you doing work that’s above you, as they love people helping out with the harder stuff. I’ve been able to interview people, work out strategies, analyze documents and put together drafts of documents for the regulator.” On a more basic level, associates were “conducting legal research, doing doc review, note-taking during client meetings and drafting briefs.”
Litigation clients: Bloomberry Resorts and Hotels, AXA Equitable Life Insurance, and Lincoln National Corporation. Representing the latter in five consolidated federal cases that have resulted from Lincoln’s adjustment to the cost of insurance for certain universal life insurance policies.
“...if you’re going to do projects, do it here.”
Over in global projects, “we essentially do the financings for energy and infrastructure projects, which can cover anything from solar and wind farms to traditional oil and gas work.” Sources were keen to emphasize that “there’s a ton of renewables work, both domestically and cross-border with Latin America.” We were also told that while the group sometimes acts for the borrower, most of the time Milbank represents the lender. “When it comes to financings, we’re handling the credit and security agreements between the developer and the financer,” a source explained, “although we also do some development work when a project is being built, so we’ll draft power purchase agreements, for instance.” The “cool thing about this group is that everyone loves what they do – if you’re going to do projects, do it here.” For juniors, the “standard tasks include running the conditions precedent checklist on a deal and handling the signature pages – we take the lead on that documentation. As a deal gets closer to completion, you’ll be inputting lots of comments!” There’s also plenty of “connecting with the counsels at our clients and on the other side.”
TOP READ: Transportation and space law with Milbank
Global project, energy and infrastructure finance clients: EVgo, Silicon Valley Bank, Summit Carbon Solutions. Advised a consortium of lenders, including Banco Santander and Bank of Montreal, on a $650 million financing facility for Apex Clean Energy Holdings to use on a number of renewable energy projects across the US.
“...we do a lot of transactions that involve jurisdictions in Latin America.”
The global corporate group covers areas such as capital markets, M&A, private equity, and fund formation. “We also do some corporate governance work – where you’re making sure a company is doing what it should from a legal standpoint – as well as some renewables deals that we get from the project finance department,” a source added. In terms of the scope, “we do a lot of transactions that involve jurisdictions in Latin America, as well as deals in Germany and the UK.” Daily tasks include “due diligence, contract review and putting together the likes of unit purchase agreements, which is a fancy way of buying interests in a company!” Associates were pleased to report that “you are encouraged to attend events to build client relations and network.”
Global corporate M&A clients: Apollo Global Management, Blackstone. Advised Veritas Capital on its $17 billion sale to athenahealth to Hellman & Friedman and Bain Capital.
“Milbank cares a lot about training,” a source pointed out, with many mentioning the firm’s highly regarded Milbank@Harvard program; this allows associates in their third, fourth and fifth years to attend Harvard for a week each year to brush up on the latest business and legal know-how to turn them into market experts. This program is complemented by two others – Advocacy@Milbank for litigators and Deals@Milbank for transactional associates – that run from the first year onwards and cover areas like deposition skills, oral arguments, due diligence, and transactional drafting.
“...they encourage you to bite off bigger chunks and they’re not afraid to push you up.”
While the level of formal training was applauded, interviewees also emphasized that “the quality of the people here means that you end up learning more through a deal team than a seminar.” This junior agreed that “it starts with the work: they encourage you to bite off bigger chunks and they’re not afraid to push you up. You learn through osmosis, and they will get you on calls and get you out to events.” Associates advised future joiners to be vocal about their progression: “Express your desire to work on certain types of deals. If I want to pick up a skill or take over a workstream, everyone will help.” For one source who had lateraled into the firm, “this has been the best place to get mentored and I’ve never received this kind of mentorship before.” Juniors are assigned both a senior associate and a partner mentor.
The work ethic at Milbank was flagged as something that underpinned the culture: “People are fiercely good at their jobs, and I feel that I’m constantly learning from them and seeing how they think. They’re also nice and friendly, which comes from the top – there’s no toxic culture here.” This source very much agreed and told us that “you will get a great teaching experience here, but I won’t deny that the workload is high and this is a high-pressure job. If you give it your 100% and maintain your routine to get your hours in and do your work, you’ll find it manageable. Remember you’re entering a law firm that is the crème de la crème where people are proud of their work and the standards they uphold.”
“...the culture is slowly moving back to what it used to be before the pandemic.”
That may sound a little intense, but sources were keen to emphasize that “the culture of the firm is communal – firm socials are important and Milbank tries its best to be collegial with mixers and diversity programs that provide a great opportunity to meet and hang out with your colleagues.” The firm’s recruiters reportedly do “a good job of figuring out the personalities that will fit in well here – we're a bunch of friendly people.” Indeed, “if someone is difficult, it will be noticed and acted on to ensure harmony among the team – and there aren’t a lot of those people anyway!” This interviewee concluded that the “the culture is slowly moving back to what it used to be before the pandemic. Everyone is hard-working and nice, and I recently got to go to a happy hour and a diversity dinner.”
Hours & Compensation
Billable hours: no requirement
“I really like how Milbank takes the lead on compensation in the market.”
“From our perspective, it wouldn’t matter even if there was a billable minimum we needed to hit, as we’d be busy enough to bill at or around it,” an associate told us. Another commented that while some might like “the structure and simplicity” of having a concrete billing target, they liked how the absence of a strict number “allows me to be more focused on incorporating pro bono, business development, and mentoring into my time.” Milbank associates certainly spend a significant amount of time billing, however: “The standard amount is about 40 billable hours a week, but I’ve been working on something in the last couple of weeks that has taken me to 60 to 70 working hours a week. If we do have to work on a weekend, they will give us notice,” a litigator explained. Their colleague in projects added that “people are accommodating, unless it’s a deal closing! But the support is there from staffing coordinators and people respect that you’re human and need a break.”
“I really like how Milbank takes the lead on compensation in the market,” a proud source declared. “Milbank had the guts to say, ‘We’ll pay people for how hard they are working,’ especially through the pandemic. There is talk of a recession coming up and the economy’s not doing as well, but Milbank is a financially cautious firm and I'm confident that there will be no issues.” Bonuses at Milbank are lockstep and awarded to associates on the basis that they are in good standing.
There’s no cap on the amount of pro bono associates can do and it all counts as billable. “The firm does stress the importance of it,” said one source, while another added that “people are supportive of it, and we get reminders to pick it up if we can.” Associates are expected to complete at least 25 hours of pro bono each year, but we heard of one junior who went far above that and completed 800 hours! Others told us that there are two dedicated pro bono attorneys at the firm who “keep us up to date and send around emails with opportunities.”
“...go to the courthouse and act as a public defender for the day.”
“The litigation folks are very involved in pro bono because it ties in directly with their skills,” a junior noted. We were told about litigators who were “acting against New York City for not providing WiFi for students living in homeless shelters during the pandemic” and taking on the NYPD while serving as counsel to the New York Lawyers for the Public Interest. Sources also spoke about volunteering for the Center for Justice & Accountability (CJA), where they could “go to the courthouse and act as a public defender for the day – these cases are great for classic criminal defense experience and operate on a scale where it’s people’s lives and freedom on the line.”
TOP READ: Making an impact through pro bono at Milbank
Transactional interviewees had helped out on tax issues for startups; immigration matters; hospital developments; and entrepreneur schemes in developing countries. Opportunities aren’t just limited to local areas: “I speak multiple languages and I was doing an international pro bono matter where my language skills were a plus and the client had a similar background.”
Pro bono hours:
- For all (US) attorney: 59,000
- Average per (US) attorney: 75
Diversity, Equity & Inclusion
Newbies found Milbank’s affinity groups – consisting of Women@Milbank, Pride: LBGTQ+, LaMano (Latinx Attorney Mentoring & Networking Organization), APIN (Asian Pacific Islander Network), aADAM (Attorneys of African Descent at Milbank), and PAG (the Parents' Affinity Group) – to be a useful resource at the firm: “My affinity group provided great support during COVID and gave me a platform to voice my concerns from daily life. I was surprised by how open it was.” Another source underscored that “the affinity groups host dinners and there are always events! During Pride month, flags were given out as well.”
“There’s a big commitment to those who are taking parental leave.”
“There has been a big push with diversity, but they’re still trying to figure out a formula that works,” an associate commented. Sources did feel that Milbank was doing an especially good job when it came to the “representation of women, which is very strong. There’s a big commitment to those who are taking parental leave, both men and women, which helps to remove any stigma for a woman to have a baby because so many are doing it. A lot of the men are taking parental leave, which makes it not just a woman’s thing.” A highlight for this source was that “the firm encourages flexibility for mothers, which allows them to be working moms and increases their opportunity to be badass partners in the ranks!”
LATERAL RECRUITMENT: Find out more about lateral opportunities with Milbank here.
The first stage: recruitment on and off campus
OCI applicants interviewed: undisclosed
Interviewees outside OCI: undisclosed
Milbank interviews around 1,300 students at over 30 law schools and job fairs on campus each year. The firm interviews around 20 students at each interview schedule. Milbank also considers applications from write-in candidates. Roughly three out of four of the summer associate class are recruited from the top 20 law schools. In the summer class of 2021, nearly 40% come from the top ten law schools.
OCIs are conducted by a partner and associate duo. The firm’s five affinity groups are involved in the OCI process (more on them in Milbank’s Inside View feature). Milbank’s recruiters don’t “expect students to know everything” at the OCI stage, but we heard that “those who have a compelling basis for choosing to interview with Milbank always impress.”
Top tips for this stage:
“Everyone is very curious. A classic Milbank person is someone who’s really smart, someone that has a life and a personality that brings something different to the table. Crack a joke or tell a story – no one hides in the dark here. We’re a very welcoming and warm community.” – a junior associate.
“The key ingredients for success at Milbank are intellectual curiosity, enthusiasm for the practice of law, a strong work ethic, and a devotion to teamwork and collaboration. Show us that you bring these traits to the table and you will impress.”– partner Alex Lees
"Collaboration and collegiality are key ingredients in Milbank’s culture so interviews are meant to be conversational and about learning who candidates are as individuals." – partner Sean Solis
Applicants invited to second stage interview: undisclosed
Students typically interview with two associates and two partners, and then can opt for a lunch or coffee with junior associates. The firm also offers the option of evening interviews, which are followed by a casual cocktail reception. A junior associate involved in this process told us: “We take callback interviewees out to lunch after their formal interview for another informal interview – to make sure they’re normal people! We’re given a list of criteria that the firm’s looking for: do they work well in teams? Are they intellectually curious? Do they strike us as the kind of person we want to work with?”
Top tips for this stage:
“You can never look at someone’s resume and say, ‘that’s a Milbank person’, but you can tell pretty quickly within five minutes of being in a lunch with them whether they fit. They’re smart but at the same time don’t take themselves too seriously. They’re interesting and have interests outside of what they’re working on a daily basis.”– a junior associate.
"We look for candidates who show us that they are enthusiastic about practicing law, engaging with legal issues and ideas, and taking on new challenges. Show us that you are a self-starter and an eager learner, motivated to engage in the complex problem-solving that characterizes our practice." – partner Sean Solis
"Consider how your personal and professional experiences have gotten you to this moment in time, and how those experiences make you the right fit for Milbank." – partner Alex Lees
Milbank's summer program allows students to rotate through up to three of the firm's practice areas. Work is assigned by practice group assignment coordinators and each summer associate receives a partner mentor and an associate mentor. Summer associates receive real-time feedback on their work in addition to mid-summer and end-of-summer meetings with a hiring partner to discuss feedback and their development for the future.
Summer associates attend two formal training programs each week. The first program examines a hypothetical company, Windstar, and each session includes an exploration of a key legal step from inception to bankruptcy and then restructuring, including work on assignments ranging from commitment letters to an IP prospectus. Each session is taught by partners and associates who are experts in the subject matter. The second training program consists of a weekly Lunch-and-Learn series.
Nearly 100% of summer associates return as junior associates. When they return, they are assigned to the ‘transactional rotation program’ or to litigation, restructuring, tax, or trusts & estates. Associates in the transactional rotation move through three corporate and finance practices.
Top tips for this stage:
“There’s an emphasis on trying to find the types of people that’d fit into the culture: friendly, and easy to get along with. Those people who you’d want to spend the hours with when the hours are long.”– a junior associate.
"The summer program offers you an opportunity to not only get to know the firm but also figure out what kind of lawyer you’d like to be. It’s an opportunity to ask questions, attend training sessions, explore various practice areas and network with lawyers across the firm." – partner Alex Lees
"The summer associate experience will help teach you about the practical side of being a lawyer following the rigors and intellectual side of the law you learn in law school. But the program also is a lot of fun, chock full of events intended to promote the cohesion of the summer class and give summer associates a memorable experience." – partner Sean Solis
“One thing I’ve noticed is that Milbankers are generally pretty funny. When they get us all into a room, I’m surprised at how easy it is for everyone to make each other laugh.”– a junior associate.
55 Hudson Yards,
Main areas of work
Albany, Berkeley, Boston College/Boston University (Job fair), Chicago, Columbia, Cornell, Duke, Emory, Fordham, Georgetown, GW, Harvard, Howard, Lavender Law (Job fair), MCGC (Resume collect), Michigan, Northwestern, New York University, Penn, Stanford, Texas, Tulane, UCLA (LA), UCI (LA), USC (LA), UVA, Vanderbilt, Yale.
Recruitment outside OCIs:
Our diversity fellowship program hires exceptionally talented 1L students for the Los Angeles and New York offices 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, 2023
- Bankruptcy/Restructuring (Band 2)
- Banking & Finance (Band 2)
- Bankruptcy/Restructuring: The Elite (Band 1)
- Corporate/M&A: Highly Regarded (Band 3)
- Intellectual Property: Patent (Band 5)
- Litigation: General Commercial: The Elite (Band 3)
- Litigation: Securities (Band 3)
- Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations: The Elite (Band 2)
- Real Estate: Mainly Corporate & Finance (Band 3)
- Tax (Band 3)
USA - Nationwide
- Banking & Finance (Band 2)
- Bankruptcy/Restructuring: The Elite (Band 1)
- Capital Markets: High-Yield Debt (Band 4)
- Capital Markets: Securitization: ABS (Band 3)
- Capital Markets: Securitization: CLOs (Band 1)
- Capital Markets: Securitization: Whole Business (Band 1)
- Corporate Crime & Investigations: The Elite (Band 5)
- Mining & Metals (Band 1)
- Projects: Agency Financing (Band 2)
- Projects: Mining & Metals (Band 1)
- Projects: Oil & Gas (Band 2)
- Projects: Power (Band 1)
- Projects: Power & Renewables: Transactional (Band 2)
- Projects: PPP (Band 2)
- Projects: Renewables & Alternative Energy (Band 1)
- Securities: Litigation (Band 5)
- Securities: Regulation: Enforcement (Band 4)
- Tax: Corporate & Finance (Band 4)
- Transportation: Aviation: Finance (Band 1)