There’s no milling about at this prestigious BigLaw juggernaut: to make it at Milbank, you’ll need a clear sense of ambition and a desire to maintain the pace set by the firm’s ‘first-mover’ status in the market.
“We view ourselves as a small, big firm,” says Milbank’s chairman Scott Edelman, before clarifying: “Small enough to act as a collegial partnership, but in the areas we practice, we have premier positions.” Milbank certainly doesn’t subscribe to the belief held in some parts of BigLaw that you need to have a hefty collection of worldwide offices in order to thrive as a global firm: it keeps its location count comparatively low (at three domestic and nine overseas offices), but its prestigious reputation travels much further than its geographical presence.
TOP READ: Becoming a project finance lawyer - the view from Milbank
“We always have to be innovative,” Edelman continues, “focusing on what’s different and new because complicated transactions will be copied by other law firms. We’re seeing an increased pace of transactions with more and more cross-border work and different kinds of financing.” On the one hand there’s keeping up with what’s new, and on the other there’s setting the standard for what ‘new’ means in practice: you may well know Milbank for being something of a trendsetter when it comes to influencing associate compensation raises across the country; there’s no denying that Milbank is part of the elite pack of BigLaw firms leading the market at the moment.
“Milbank put itself on everyone’s radar as a first-mover.”
All of this was not lost on our sources: “Milbank put itself on everyone’s radar as a first-mover – I was really struck by it!” recalled one interviewee. “The diversity of deals and its prestige were outstanding,” underlined another, while this junior was sold on “the sense I got of Milbank’s good market position.” Our interviewees were drawn to Milbank’s strengths in both transactional and litigious work – a spread that has contributed to the firm’s success over the years and allowed it to navigate boom and bust economic cycles. Milbank’s bankruptcy practice is the one to beat: Chambers USA rates it in ‘the elite’ category on a nationwide basis. More elite categorizations are bestowed upon the firm’s general commercial disputes and white-collar crime/government investigations capabilities. On the transactional side, Milbank stands out on a global basis for its projects and banking & finance expertise, while its capital markets, corporate/M&A and real estate coverage also comes in for praise in the US.
Strategy & Future
Looking back over 2021, Edelman says that “most excitingly we’ve made new additions in private equity and M&A. We’ve had significant growth globally with lateral hires in Hong Kong, New York, London and Germany.” As you’d expect from a firm built to handle the good and bad times, Edelman informs us that “we’ve continued to grow in the pandemic with individual attorneys and teams at the top of their field [...] In our markets we’re competing with the top firms, on high-end, high-value transactions and disputes."
Most of the associates on our list were based in Milbank’s New York HQ, but some could also be found in the firm’s remaining domestic offices, DC and LA. The firm’s litigation; global corporate; and global project, energy and infrastructure practices absorbed the most juniors, but other groups were also represented on the list: financial restructuring; global leveraged finance; transportation and space; alternative investments; and trusts and estates.
The litigation practice has an assignment coordinator: “You get everything from them, and the set-up helps to keep everything balanced,” said one source. Another was glad to have the structure provided by a coordinator, as “I didn’t want a free-market system because of the competitive environment it can produce.” Many other groups had coordinators, too. “We have a dedicated staff member who receives our availability reports and sees who has the most time – it makes it fairer than the free market and I’m working on a broad array of matters,” a global corporate junior summarized.
Litigators are able to remain generalists, “which works well as most people don’t know exactly what they want to do when they start!” It sounds like there’s never a dull moment for a litigation associate at Milbank: “I’m involved in insider trading investigations, securities class action lawsuits, and commercial litigation with fraud and real estate components,” one source enthused. This junior told us that “the investigations are good because they involve smaller teams and more work with clients.” There’s also “a lot of regulatory and bankruptcy work, as well as IP matters.” For those who focus on the latter it's helpful to have a science background but it's not a prerequisite. Sources praised the department for giving them “a lot of drafting opportunities – you’re not a cog in the wheel!” Responsibilities vary, as this junior explained: “Some days are busy and others are quieter. If it’s a day when I’m working on an investigation then it will be busy – I’ll be synthesizing information from the client, putting together presentations, compiling charts, and attending regulator meetings.”
Litigation clients: Goldman Sachs, Deutsche Bank, Citigroup. Represented Bloomberry Resorts and Hotels during a case filed by the Bangladesh Bank related to the alleged cyber-hacking of the bank in 2016.
"There’s a lot of renewable energy work surrounding wind power and turbines.”
Those in global projectstold us that “we work with various industries, but there’s a lot of renewable energy work surrounding wind power and turbines.” Work-wise, “it depends on where we are in the deal, but I could be helping to draft credit agreements, contributing to calls with lenders, scheduling different components of the deal, and coordinating with the borrower’s counsel.” One of the perks here is that “you get to learn a lot with every deal you close – the deals have so many parties involved, and I’ve got to know so much about the renewables space in the US.” Deals do cover international jurisdictions as well, with this junior explaining that they’d been “involved in a lot of Latin America deals tied to wind farms in Chile and Paraguay.”
Projects clients: AIP Management, Sonnedix, Canadian Solar. Advised LS Power on the formation of a power platform called Rev Renewables.
In global corporate, one of the strands available to focus on is infrastructure M&A: “We’re well known for our energy work, but deals also pertain to networks of fiber-optic cables and portfolios of aircraft – around half of my work is related to technology systems.” Associates spend their time moving deals forward by “receiving and compiling signature filings, working on ancillary documents, editing purchase agreements, and putting together non-disclosure agreements.” Other sources had focused on “financing matters with structured finance components – I’m taking work off seniors and running checklists and have found I can learn more when given full deals that are less complex at this stage.” As juniors progress, they move on from process-driven tasks to “figuring out the problems” posed by more complex, innovative deal structures.
Corporate clients: Apollo Global Management, Actis, BlackRock. Advised The Carlyle Group – via its aviation investment arm – on its $2.36 billion acquisition of Fly Leasing.
Training at Milbank generally received a thumbs-up, with sources saying that “the firm runs sessions in the build-up to the Milbank@Harvard program.” The latter is the hallmark of Milbank’s approach to career development and gives all third, fourth and fifth years the opportunity to go to Harvard for a week to boost their business knowledge (participants go to classes on accounting and economics, and also get to meet their peers from other offices). In addition, there are two formal programs that equip litigators and transactional associates with what they need to know from their first year onwards (up until their seventh year of practice): Advocacy@Milbank is for the litigators and Deals@Milbank is designed for – you guessed it – the transactional folk. On the plus side is “an understanding that juniors shouldn’t be bothered or interrupted when they’re doing training.”
“You need to be confident that you can handle many matters without any oversight."
“Absolutely partnership is achievable,” declared one source. “You need to be confident that you can handle many matters without any oversight though.” Sources had noticed lateral movement out of the firm, in keeping with “the way the BigLaw market is right now.” Those who did leave were said to have gone “in-house, to other cities, or to smaller firms.” This interviewee noted that “transactional people go in-house, while the more senior litigators can go into government positions.”
“The culture depends on which group you’re in,” said a global projects associate; “mine is more Type A but chill, for example.” One common theme that ran throughout our interviewees’ comments was that “people work hard, but they also know that there’s a life outside of work!” Milbank “tries to be a place where you don’t feel the need to spend time with colleagues outside of working hours – there’s an understanding that people have lives.”
"We do want to hang outside of work.”
While there isn’t an emphasis on ‘forced fun’ plenty of juniors still noted that people do like to socialize with one another. “There are a lot of opportunities for casual interactions,” said one, and another commented that “the culture among first and second-years is one where we do want to hang outside of work.” As the restrictions put in place during the worst points of the pandemic begin to lift, monthly happy hours were making a welcome return. Juniors also hoped that the summer program would run as normal, as they remembered “how many events used to be held – I made some great friends through it!”
Hours & Compensation
Billable hours: no requirement
While there’s no formal billing requirement at Milbank, “the general expectation is for you to hit 2,000 hours,” an associate told us, “as that’s 100% efficiency.” Bonuses at Milbank are lockstep, which helps to diminish “a competitive or stressful vibe, but at the same time I suppose there’s less motivation to go over the top with your hours,” a source reflected. Special bonuses were awarded for work conducted throughout the pandemic.
Long hours can be encountered at Milbank, as this litigator explained: “It does depend on how busy a case is, but recently I’ve been working from 9am until 10pm most days – I did get a call asking if I was okay and sometimes I go home early! The coordinators also allow for some downtime when you’ve had a busy case.” Over in projects, “the weeks can vary anywhere between 40 and 70 hours.” The estimated average recorded by our survey respondents for the preceding week was 56 hours. Weekend work was also quite common, with this litigator estimating that they’d worked “as many as 20 hours at a weekend,” and a transactional source pitching their weekend output at “fewer than five hours.” Working on vacation time was not unheard of either, although “people really encourage you to take your holidays!” Uptake varied on this point, with some juniors admitting that they hadn’t taken any vacation yet, while others remarked that “a lot of first-years used up their allowance!” Our survey showed that respondents had on average taken seven days of vacation in the last twelve months.
Juniors were happy to report that Milbank’s “sterling pro bono reputation” lived up to their expectations. All pro bono work counts as billable and “there’s a crazy big emphasis on it,” with one source explaining that “there’s an assignment chart where you can see what people are doing and some have three ongoing matters at a time!” Rumor has it “you can bill up to 500 pro bono hours a year” and this source insisted that “every litigator has done 100 hours.”
“…huge civil rights class actions.”
Milbank has two dedicated pro bono attorneys “who send us emails – they’ve pitched projects to us and asked if I wanted to do something in particular.” Ultimately, “you have free rein to do whatever you want, especially juniors.” We heard of matters being taken on for organizations like Her Justice and Start Small Think Big, “which helps small businesses.” Litigators spoke of “huge civil rights class actions” and “a lot of work for the Legal Aid Society of New York,” with “everyone working on a pretty big pro bono case.” Transactional juniors had also spent time “helping a nonprofit change its name and drafting up bylaws,” as well as “writing up memos for public policy matters.”
Pro bono hours
- For all (US) attorneys: 46,000
- Average per (US) attorney: 72
Diversity, Equity & Inclusion
“The firm is focusing on recruiting, but I see a lack of diversity at the partner level,” a source commented, reflecting the thoughts voiced by others. Juniors tended to praise Milbank for bringing in more diverse summer classes but highlighted an ongoing issue with retention: “It does a great job of bringing people in, but very talented minority associates leave.” However, “efforts are being made to do more to retain diverse candidates through measures like secondments,” another junior noted.
“…everyone is required to do implicit bias training.”
A couple of sources mentioned the appointment of “a new chief DE&I officer [Mikeisha Anderson Jones]” who is devoted to “proposing new initiatives.” Interviewees also felt that the firm was making an effort to have conversations on important subjects and not shy away from issues. “The events of 2020 sparked a lot of conversation,” reported one, while another flagged that “there was a meeting to discuss hate crimes against Asian people in this country, and the chairman made a statement.” This junior was also glad to tell us that “everyone is required to do implicit bias training.”
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.
"We want to hear about experiences that demonstrate who you are, that show us how you’ll contribute to our collaborative, entrepreneurial culture. Who we are as a firm is the merger of excellence, grit, and teamwork. We value rigor, intellectual curiosity and leadership. We also value authenticity, inclusivity and diversity." – 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 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.
Interview with Chairman Scott Edelman
Chambers Associate: How would you describe the firm’s current market position?
We view ourselves as a small, big firm; small enough to act as a collegial partnership, but in the areas we practice, we have premier positions. In our markets we’re competing with the top firms on high end, high value transactions and disputes.
CA: Are there highlights from the past year or in the firm’s immediate future you think our readers should be aware about?
Most excitingly we’ve made new additions in private equity and M&A. We’ve had significant growth globally with lateral hires in Hong Kong, New York, London and Germany.
CA: Would you characterize the firm as in growth mode?
We’ve continued to grow in the pandemic with individual attorneys and teams at the top of their field, and technology hasn’t changed our approach to growth.
CA: How has the firm weathered the pandemic and has it affected the firm’s long-term strategy?
As a business, the pandemic hasn’t affected the firm that much – we were exceptionally busy. One of the challenges that has arisen is figuring out the future of working in an office, something our juniors benefit from, so we’ve adopted a three day a week requirement.
CA: What is the greatest challenge facing the firm in the next decade? How about the legal market more generally?
We always have to be innovative, focusing on what’s different and new because complicated transactions will be copied by other law firms. We’re seeing an increased pace of transactions with more and more cross-border work and different kinds of financing.
CA: Does the firm have any set targets with regards to diversity? What policies are in place/what new policies are the firm implementing to ensure that the firm meets these targets?
We don’t have set targets, but we do have aspirations and goals to see improvement that we’re working hard on: internal training; speakers; a new chief diversity officer and diversity officers; and scholarships. We’re very focused on mentoring and training to ensure our diverse attorneys succeed. Last year, we hired Mikeisha Anderson Jones, our new Chief Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Officer. Her authentic leadership, insights and unique perspective are and will continue to be fundamental to our success as we continue to evolve our DEI initiatives.
CA: Any advice for those about to enter the legal industry?
You get what you put in, and if it’s just a job you won’t get a lot out of it. It requires that investment, being willing to work hard and looking for opportunities. We place a great focus on training with programs from the first week at the firm to our Milbank@Harvard program.
55 Hudson Yards,
- Head Office: New York, NY
- Number of domestic offices: 3
- Number of international offices: 9
- Worldwide revenue: $1,359,000,000
- Partners (US): 122
- Counsel (US): 32
- Associates (US): 391
- Main recruitment contact: Alexandra Paslawsky (email@example.com)
- Hiring partners: Alex Lees and Sean Solis
- Diversity officer: Mikeisha Anderson-Jones
- Recruitment details
- Entry-level associates starting in 2022: 58
- Clerking policy: Yes
- Summers joining/anticipated 2022: 1Ls:6, 2Ls: 81, SEO: 3
- Summers joining/anticipated 2022 split by office: NY 73, LA 13, Washington, DC 4
- Summer salary 2022: 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, 2022
- 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: The Elite (Band 5)
- 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)