You can bank on this elite New Yorker continuing to be a BigLaw trendsetter in years to come.
Milbank is something of an influencer in the BigLaw world. In social media equivalent terms, it has made other law firms gawp with delirious envy at its yogic litheness and glowing complexion and left them wondering what vitamin supplements they can take to keep up. Milbank upped the stakes in 2018 when it raised the bar for base salaries (forcing other firms to dig deeper into their pockets to compete), then moved into the uber cool Hudson Yards development, making the downtown NY financial district crowd look decidedly old school.
“Firms that provide those services are winners and will pull away from the market.”
Yes, Milbank is one of those prestigious New York firms that’s leading the pack and is, in fact, on its way to leaving it behind entirely. “We’re going to be one of the firms that pull away [from the rest of the market],” says chairman Scott Edelman, referring to the significant financial growth and global impact attained by a small crowd of elite US outfits, which places them in a league that is entirely their own. “Our strategy is pretty simple,” adds Edelman, “for growth to be created by superb lawyers who can offer high value-add, complex, bet-your-company legal services. The reason we’ve been so successful is that we’ve been able to grow a team that has those characteristics. Firms that provide those services are winners and will pull away from the market.”
TOP READ: Transportation and Space: Join Milbank's transportation and space experts as they take you through their global practice, which involves keeping our ever-changing world moving and connected.
This status was not lost on our associate interviewees, who were proud to be at a firm that was “very stable.” A knowledgeable source explained that Milbank is “designed to be counter-cyclical,” with a balance of practices that are equipped for both the boom times and the Zoom times. Milbank’s Chambers USA rankings reflect that balance well, with top nationwide marks going to the firm’s bankruptcy and restructuring practice, while on the more ‘boom time’ side there are some stellar projects and aviation transport groups, as well as highly regarded corporate/M&A expertise. “Much of what we do has a finance edge,” one junior explained, so come to Milbank if you’re looking for matters that have that shiny “finance gloss.”
Strategy & Future
“We’re having a record year,” chairman Scott Edelman continues. “We’re going to be up in every metric and have been extremely busy across all practice areas.” Given the global pandemic, “our world-leading restructuring practice has been driving interesting work.” While transactional practices everywhere were hit, Edelman tells us that after a “short hiatus,” Milbank's lawyers have been “busy throughout the year and are getting busier.” He adds that “we’re seeing opportunities to add super, quality lawyers around the globe,” so expansion is forecast in the year ahead. Read more from Edelman on the Bonus Features tab above.
At the time of writing, everyone we spoke to across practice areas acknowledged that “bankruptcy and restructuring work has dominated the firm” as the pandemic cut its destructive scythe through the global economy. If the pandemic or the market downturn continues, then new joiners can expect to be involved in this kind of work to some degree.
The vast majority of the juniors on our list were based in Milbank’s New York HQ, while the DC and LA bases housed around a dozen each. We were told that LA spans several of the firm’s practice areas, but in DC it’s “primarily litigation, though we do have a subset of the transportation & space group.” The DC office also handles restructuring work. Litigation had taken on the biggest chunk of the juniors (over a third), while other groups with a significant number of associates included projects & energy; corporate; alternative investments; financial restructuring; and transportation & space.
Summer associates rotate through three different practices. When they return as a first-year, they're placed in either litigation; tax, trust and estates; restructuring or the transactional groups. Transactional associates do rotations of three months between three groups, before picking one to settle into before the end of the first year. Work assignment various by location and practice, with some groups employing a staffing partner to “track people’s hours and allocate accordingly,” while others – especially smaller groups – have a more informal arrangement. The DC office was said to have more informal processes than New York, which did, for some, raise concerns over assignments that are allocated based on who people know.
Milbank’s litigation group combines “classic commercial litigation, like contractual disputes,” with the likes of antitrust, IP, white-collar and bankruptcy matters. The latter two are “probably what we’re best known for,” a New York source pointed out. “Typically, in DC, you’ll do bankruptcy. In New York, you’ll do a wider range of things.” A DC source added that “we do a lot of inter-office work with New York, because bankruptcy is headed up there.” Some interviewees noted that the rise in bankruptcy cases over the past year had led to more doc review and fact-finding work for those starting out. “COVID-19 happened at the worst time for first-years,” an empathetic source acknowledged. “It wasn’t the same for us,” said those who were now more senior, with pre-COVID work consisting of more substantive tasks like “drafting main documents, managing doc review, organizing hearing prep” and even “chairing a deposition.”
Litigation clients: Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, Bloomberry Resorts and Hotels. Recently represented ITOCHU Coal Americas in a case where it was alleged that Drummond (which ITOCHU has a minority interest in) had partaken in illegal coal mining activities in Colombia. Milbank’s motion to dismiss was granted.
On the subject of handling bankruptcies, some sources were based in Milbank’s dedicated financial restructuring practice. “Traditionally we’ve been a creditor-side firm,” explained a junior, “but on some of the major multibillion deals we’ve been on the debtor side too.” The work is “part litigation and part transactional” and allows juniors to delve into the “intricacies of why a firm has filed a Chapter 11.” The tasks reportedly change “from day to day” and can include “lots of legal research, drafting credit agreements and motions, and reviewing invoices.” Interviewees here confirmed that “restructuring work has dominated the firm” and that the group “works closely with every other department – we quarterback deals.”
Financial restructuring clients: HPS Investment Partners, Avianca Holdings, ad hoc group of unsecured noteholders of Frontier Communications. Advised HPS Investment Partners in connection with the Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings of media solutions company Mood.
If you’re like us, transportation & space generates stratospheric interest. The reality, we were told, is that most people work on the transportation finance side (in aviation finance, for example), while the space element is “a bit siloed.” It’s a “small part of our group,” an associate explained, who also noted that a lot of work involves financing satellite projects. There are M&A and restructuring angles to deal with here, and sources noted that matters are “usually leanly staffed. If people think you can run a deal, then that’s what you’ll do.” Given that “most of the documents are similar deal to deal, you can get a lot of responsibility early on. It can be stressful, but that’s how you grow!”
Transportation & space clients: BNP Paribas, Carlyle Aviation, AirAsia. Recently represented Latin American airline Avianca during its lease and debt re-profiling program.
Hours & Compensation
Billable hours: no requirement
Milbank’s showing no signs of relinquishing its grip on market-leading payouts. The firm announced that it would be matching the bonus mark set by Davis Polk, but would also be offering its top performers an additional 50% on top of the base amount. On top of that there was a one-off special bonus awarded to associates for their efforts during the COVID-19 pandemic. Unsurprisingly, associates were quick to tell us that “the money is great!”
“You’ve got to get stuff done quickly so companies don’t perish on the operating table.”
But these associates certainly put in the hard graft for this level of compensation. It’s a point we continually come back to in this guide, but it’s worth restating here: if you’re going to work in BigLaw at this level, the hours are going to be demanding, regardless of practice group. Many had noticed how “things ramped up during COVID,” especially in areas like litigation and financial restructuring. Juniors in these areas told us that they were billing anywhere between 160 and 300 hours a month. A litigator highlighted how bankruptcy-related work meant that “when I’m asked to do something, I’m expected to complete it as soon as possible. If a timeline is coming up, I won’t be surprised if I get a call at midnight or an email at 2am.” Financial restructuring is “notorious for long hours. It’s the nature of the work. You’ve got to get stuff done quickly so companies don’t perish on the operating table. I was passing billing 300 hours a month, which isn’t normal. They grew the group substantially during the pandemic, but it didn’t happen overnight.” In transactional groups like global corporate and transportation & space, the hours had been more manageable during the pandemic, but bankruptcy support work in real estate had kept juniors there busier than usual.
Culture & Career Development
“New York BigLaw has a scary reputation,” one source conceded, but the sense we got from interviewees was that the people at Milbank are largely “cordial and nice.” Of course, the culture various by location and practice area, but juniors generally agreed that in the past year of intense working throughout the pandemic, it’s been “good to work with people you like – when you’re working so hard it can be really draining, so being around people you like makes a huge difference.” The smaller size of the DC office made for the most social environment between groups, with one junior here explaining that “it’s not uncommon, for example, for a litigation partner to attend the wedding of a transactional associate.” Several people mentioned the lack of a billable hours requirement as a positive: “You don’t run into people hoarding work,” one source noted, which means “there’s no competition inside the firm because we are a team.”
“People remember being in our shoes...”
A common thread among associates’ comments was praise for seniors who said thank you for work and devoted time to mentoring. “People remember being in our shoes,” said a junior, “and the perfect example of that is getting an email back thanking me for handing in my work on time and offering constructive feedback.” Another mentioned that “there’s a lot of teaching going on from the higher-ups, and the firm has a reputation for mentoring.” Not every source agreed that the mentoring is top-notch across the board, with some partners flagged as “incredible” and others, well, maybe not so incredible (“some suck!”). The introduction of upward reviews was recommended as a course of action for improvement. On the teaching side, Milbank’s well-known jewel in its development crown is its Milbank@Harvard program, which sees associates at the end of their third year sent to Harvard for one week for three years to learn a whole host of skills to boost their business acumen.
Around a third of those surveyed intended on staying at the firm indefinitely; a third for the next two years; and a third for another five years. Many of our interviewees had no immediate plans to leave, with one highlighting how being at the firm is “great for my personal development and job security – going anywhere else would be a downgrade in terms of job security.” We heard mixed views on the attainability of partnership. “It feels like an option for me,” said this source, who admitted that “it’s not something that’s addressed with juniors, which they should perhaps start doing.” Another, however, felt that “Milbank is more on the turn and burn side of the BigLaw spectrum. I like the people and there are a lot of good training opportunities, but I think I need to go somewhere smaller where there are better opportunities to move up.”
Diversity & Inclusion
The most prominent topic of discussion among our interviewees was the lack of women in Milbank’s partnership. We heard this feedback across practice groups in the DC and New York offices. “The DC office is primarily made up of women, but there are no female partners,” said a litigator. "I don’t think it’s a deterrent from staying, but it is a sad reality that I don’t like.” For another female associate in a transactional group, the impact of not having female role models in the partnership was clear: “It’s definitely hard to see yourself on the partnership track because of it. You can’t be what you can’t see.”
We did hear that action is being taken to improve gender representation at the more senior levels. One source highlighted how “the head of the women’s group has been challenging the leadership at town halls and asking about tangible measures to increase the retention of women.” Another mentioned that there has been a “renewed focus” on gender and added that the latest partnership promotions showed “that the firm is interested in comparison to previous years.” Milbank promoted five partners globally in January 2021: four men and one woman.
Milbank requires its attorneys to put in a minimum of 25 hours pro bono work each year. From what our interviewees told us, it sounds like Milbank attorneys typically do more than the minimum: “Almost everyone is on at least one pro bono case and you’re generally going to be billing a lot on that.” We heard that the firm “takes pro bono seriously and is supportive of it,” to the point where if an associate is on “a big pro bono case, they might try and lighten the load” of client billable work elsewhere. Regardless of whether that happens or not, sources noted that associate commitment to pro bono is strong: “Generally, if you have to stay up late or work weekends to do it, then you do that.”
“...it feels like you’re a real lawyer, taking depositions and going to court.”
“From a litigation perspective, if you’re not doing something in pro bono, people would probably look down on you,” commented one source, who added that they had received “mentorship on them [pro bono matters] – it feels like you’re a real lawyer, taking depositions and going to court.” Transactional associates didn’t feel left out either, with this junior explaining that “there are a wide range of matters to work on, whether that’s helping nonprofits to incorporate or assisting with wills and adoption cases.”
Pro bono hours
- For all (US) attorneys: 53,000
- Average per (US) attorney: 92
Milbank stuck to its full ten-week long summer program in 2020, with its first-year associate class joining in fall 2020. The 2021 summer program will again run for ten weeks from May 24 to July 30. The firm told us: "We expect the program will begin remotely, and we expect our offer rate to be consistent with our historical practices."
The first stage: recruitment on and off campus
OCI applicants interviewed: 1,195
Interviewees outside OCI: 165
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. Rod Miller, one of Milbank’s hiring partners, tells us that “the interview teams are deliberately diverse as we’ve found that receiving input from multiple, diverse interviewers has better informed our callback selections.” The firm’s five affinity groups are involved in the OCI process (more on them in Milbank’s Inside View feature): “Their involvement has been critical to our recruiting success: this summer our class is more than 50% diverse and more than 60% female.”
Milbank’s interviewers focus their questions on areas where “we can gauge[a candidate’s] intelligence, analytical skills and interests outside of the firm. Those with greater interests outside of academia tend to perform better and have a longer life-span with the firm.”Miller tells us the firm is looking for candidates who are “seriously committed to their own professional development. […] We find that those who seek out and thrive on continuing to grow intellectually and professionally make for the best colleagues and alumni.”Milbank’s recruiters don’t “expect students to know everything” at the OCI stage, but Miller tells us 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.
“We highly encourage our summer associates and associates to pursue judicial clerkships and even assist in identifying and obtaining these positions. We also actively recruit new judicial clerks each year for our litigation and bankruptcy practices. We solicit applications from US federal clerks in all circuits and over the last year we have hosted events for clerks in the Southern and Eastern Districts of New York and 2nd Circuit, as well as the Supreme Court of Canada.” – Rod Miller, hiring partner.
Applicants invited to second stage interview: 384 (104 of these were outside of OCI or pre-OCI)
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?”
Miller tells us that by now “the more candidates can familiarize themselves with what the firm does that interests them, the better. Candidates should be able to tie specific facts and characteristics of the firm to their own aspirations, but we don’t expect, for example, students to have significant business, finance or other experience, either academically or otherwise.”
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 on a daily basis.”– a junior associate.
““We ask students to raise their interests early in the callback process, particularly if they have relevant practice interests and language skills.”– Rod Miller, hiring partner.
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 – summer 2018 focused on Milbank attorneys who have served in the government.
Miller tells us the firm’s summer social highlights “tend to revolve around events where summer associates and attorneys are able to interact in meaningful ways, often around shared interests. Recent summers have included axe-throwing events, an outing to Six Flags, private tours of the Whitney and MoMA, dinners at partners’ homes, a food tour in Queens, and Yankees, Mets, Dodgers, and Nationals games.”
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.
“Be adventurous. Like selecting classes, summer programs are really the best opportunity to explore different practice areas to see which practices are the most appealing. It’s often as important to know what you don’t like as it is to know what you do like.” – Rod Miller, hiring partner.
“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.
Interview with chairman Scott Edelman
Chamber Associate: Several managing partners of BigLaw firms have spoken about several law firms that are pulling away from the rest of the market, along with alternative legal service providers, and the big challenges facing them in the next decade. How will Milbank respond to that?
We’re going to be one of the firms that pull away. Our strategy is pretty simple: for growth to be created by superb lawyers who can offer high value-add, complex, bet-your-company legal services. The reason we’ve been so successful is that we’ve been able to grow a team that has those characteristics. Firms that provide those services are winners and will pull away from the market. I’m seeing our brand improving and we’re seeing opportunities to add super, quality lawyers around the globe.
CA: How has the firm weathered the pandemic? Has the pandemic affected the firm’s long-term strategy?
The firm has done phenomenally well. We’re having a record year. We’re going to be up in every metric and have been extremely busy across all practice areas. Our world-leading restructuring practice has been off the charts busy. Transactional practices, after a short hiatus, have been busy throughout the year and are getting busier. We’re doing great in terms of demand and quality. Tech and culture have held up in an extraordinary way. I don’t think we’ve missed a beat in terms of serving clients. From day one of lockdown, people have chipped in and done an extraordinarily good job.
CA: What cultural changes have come about as a result of the pandemic?
It's going to be a while before we get back to any normal office routine, and we’re not rushing people back. At the moment [at the time of interview, October 2020], we’re adopting a wait-and-see attitude. We’re trying very hard to use Zoom calls internally to keep people close together and keep track of everyone to make sure they’re okay and weathering the storm as much as possible. We recognize that people are dealing with significant challenges in terms of both work and environment. It’s why we thought the bonus was appropriate. We’re doing well, and we want to show our appreciation to our associates. We also honored our commitment to start our first-year class in October, which started on Monday [October 12, 2020], while some firms delayed that. My feeling was, one, we’re going to have the same problem in two or three months. Two, we’re busy. Three, we’ve done well with keeping people involved. And, four, it is meaningful to someone who isn’t working and has debt… starting early means a lot to them.
CA: Does the firm have any set targets with regards to diversity?
When I took the job over, we started at a low percentage. So, part of our current diversity issues are a historical issue. We’ve made huge progress, but we started from such a low place that it’s going to take time for the numbers to get up to levels that we deem acceptable. We’ve made additions, internally, and from the outside, and we are committed to continuing to do that, but it’s going to take years for that to happen.
55 Hudson Yards,
- Head Office: New York, NY
- Number of domestic offices: 3
- Number of international offices: 9
- Worldwide revenue: $1,235,499,431
- Partners (US): 116
- Counsel (US): 32
- Associates (US): 387
- Main recruitment contact: Ann Bjornstad (email@example.com)
- Hiring partner: Rod Miller
- Diversity officer: Dennis Quinio
- Recruitment details
- Entry-level associates starting in 2021: 58
- Clerking policy: Yes
- Summers joining/anticipated 2021: 1Ls: 5, 2Ls: 85, SEO: 3
- Summers joining/anticipated 2021 split by office: NY 73, LA 13, Washington, DC 4
- Summer salary 2021: 1Ls: $ 3,654 2Ls: $ 3,654
- 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, Fordham, Georgetown, George Washington, Harvard, Howard, Lavender Law Job Fair, Loyola Los Angeles (LA), Michigan, New York University, Northwestern, Pennsylvania, Stanford, St. John’s, Texas 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 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, 2021
- 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: CLOs (Band 1)
- Corporate Crime & Investigations: Highly Regarded (Band 1)
- International Arbitration: Enforcement Spotlight Table
- International Arbitration: Highly Regarded (Band 2)
- Projects: Agency Financing (Band 1)
- 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)