Associates can bank on this New York institution for big money work and bonuses with no billable hours targets.
IT'S hard to get around talking dollar when it comes to Milbank – they've got ‘bank’ in their name, for a start. Then there’s the news that the firm broke the $1 billion revenue ceiling in 2018 after nine consecutive years of growth; and the small matter of getting one over on Cravath by leading the market in first-year associate salary increases in 2018. “We always used to follow, so it feels good to know the firm is now in a position to lead,” associates declared. New York remains the center of the firm’s international operation, and Milbank made another big statement with its recent office move to the shiny Hudson Yards development. We got a tour round the new offices and found them delightful in every respect, in particular the views from the bar terrace. Most US juniors work there; around 10% are in LA and another 5% can be found in DC.
One of the firm’s greatest strengths is its projects work – Chambers USA recognizes this with four top nationwide rankings for the practice. The firm also earns top plaudits for aviation finance across the US and for bankruptcy and restructuring in New York. Many of our associate sources milled to Milbank with these specialisms in mind, though others were sold on the firm having got on so well with senior attorneys during recruitment season. “We’d all probably rather be on a beach, but if you want BigLaw you couldn't ask for a better place to do it,” one proposed.
Around a third of new arrivals to Milbank join litigation; projects, energy and infrastructure is the second most popular practice group. The rest head into a smaller team like alternative investments, corporate or real estate. Most associates fill out a W.A.R. – this isn’t an overview of recent triumphs on the battlefield, but a Weekly Activity Report which outlines how many hours you expect to bill in the upcoming week. Associates send these to the firm’s staffing coordinator, who dishes out work according to people’s capacity while considering “any types of matters we’re interested in.” That’s not true of all groups and “sometimes the process is as informal as a more senior associate reaching out to ask if you have time.” Interviewees pointed out that “it would be difficult to say no to a partner if they approached you directly; it’s easier having a neutral party involved.”
TOP READ: Becoming a project finance lawyer: From desert solar projects you can see from space to the world's largest cheese factory – Milbank's globe-trotting lawyers take you through their complex project finance practice.
New arrivals on the transactional side of the firm rotate through three out of seven business-based groups, spending four months in each before settling into one. Sources in projects had focused on Latin American-centric work involving pipeline financing and renewables infrastructure. “I expected to do a lot of menial tasks in the first couple of years, but my work is substantive and a lot more-client facing than I imagined,” a source divulged. Negotiating with insurance consultants is one such substantive role; associates are also responsible for updating deal checklists. New York often joins forces with the London and LA offices, and there’s a lot of crossover with the DC sanctions team.
Projects clients: MUFG Bank, Crédit Agricole, Société Générale. Represented the lenders in financing the expansion of the $2.5 billion Quebrada Blanca copper mine in Chile.
‘Alternative investments’ doesn’t mean funding indie rock bands – the group handles securities and works closely with the tax department. That makes for a pretty admin-heavy associate experience, and interviewees were mostly preparing ancillary documents “while the seniors put together the core agreements.” That said, client contact is common especially come closing time: “There’s more independence because it’s about making judgment calls.” Los Angeles-based corporate newbies usually work directly with a partner, which means “basically doing everything” from finding precedent cases to updating drafts. Associates there are more likely to see a mix of restructuring, M&A and setting up funds, but can end up with competing deadlines if they’re not careful.
“The substantive work gets pushed down to juniors, which is really cool.”
Bankruptcy cases are an important chunk of the litigious practice: “We tend to be in the middle of Chapter 11 disputes with a lot at stake and our matters often end up in the Wall Street Journal.” Valuation disputes are common in DC; these cases involve “experts arguing over the value of companies, which can get very technical and slightly boring,” but they often have an international dimension. Interviewees who’d worked on bankruptcy disputes and SEC investigations were well-versed in drafting motions, statements and letters to opposing counsel: “You get to try different types of cases and enjoy multiple flavors of litigation. The substantive work gets pushed down to juniors, which is really cool.” White-collar litigation is big business in New York, and both there and in Los Angeles there’s an abundance of commercial litigation to get stuck into. Cases require a fair amount of document review, “which no one really likes, but sometimes it’s enjoyable to do because even if it’s super tedious it’s not mentally taxing.”
Litigation clients: Lincoln National, Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs. Acted for SeaWorld in investigations concerning its statements about the impact of the ‘Blackfish’ documentary on its business.
Hours & Compensation
In lieu of a formal billing target, Milbank expect associates to operate at ‘100% utilization.’ That sounds like a phrase from a robot instruction manual to us, but insiders explained that the firm reviews weekly reports and grades your ‘utilization’; they also suggested that “no one breathes down your neck if you’re not billing 40 hours a week. I honestly don’t track my hours closely.” New Yorkers are expected to be in the office from 10am to 6pm but are otherwise free to work from home: “It’s totally acceptable to head out earlier then log on again in the evening.” Traffic in Los Angeles and “people caring about getting home in daylight”has encouraged a more flexible approach in that office. Interviewees who arrived at the firm worried about burnout were relieved to “have not been worked to the bone at all.” Busy periods can call for 12-hour days and midnight finishes, but “nobody is unreasonable about time. Everyone understands there are only 24 hours in the day.”
“Everyone understands there are only 24 hours in a day.”
Associates automatically get a lockstep bonus. “I never know what’s coming in my workload, so it's good to know I won’t miss out on a bonus because of something outside my control,” a source noted. Another pointed out that the system prevents “hoarding work,” while DC insiders highlighted that with only just over 30 people in the office “everybody will quickly realize if someone isn’t pulling their weight.” Removing the stress of hitting a target was a big weight off the shoulders of many: “There's no need to compete for specific work or a partner’s time so it’s a friendly atmosphere where everyone is willing to help each other out.”
This “friendly atmosphere” was a common talking point among our interviewees. “The culture is my favorite thing about Milbank,” one declared. “I really love the people I work with and that makes the whole job a lot better.” Diving headfirst into metaphor, a DC-based junior described their office as “an oasis in the desert” of BigLaw. What sets it apart? Colleagues pointed out that the smaller headcount means there’s a “much more intimate feel” and it stops people getting “lost in the shuffle.” This also means you can develop relationships with attorneys at all levels quickly and as a result “get really sophisticated and challenging work.” Even in their larger office, New York insiders had good reports too: “There’s more action and running about here than in DC, but we’re go-to-each-other’s-weddings level friends and that includes some partners.” There’s more of a Cali cool feel in Los Angeles; "it’s pretty casual and relaxed” given the firm’s size and “attorneys don’t really wear suits.” New York and DC have jeans Fridays each week, so they'd don't feel too left out.
“I really love the people I work with and that makes the whole job a lot better.”
Each office hosts happy hours – though those are more regular in some offices (New York) than others (LA) – plus holiday parties and practice group lunches. Team Los Angeles recently hosted a talk by Cory Booker and “the firm is really trying to get presidential candidates in to speak” in the run up to 2020’s election; Milbank has since hosted ten candidates from both sides of the aisle. Speaking of presidents, the DC team takes its popular softball games “out in front of the White House in summer.” Milbank also runs diversity-related events: we came calling during Hispanic History Month and "everybody was encouraged to celebrate.”
Diversity & Inclusion
“My summer class was really diverse and I remember looking around and being really pleased,” a New York associate recalled. The office has an “absolutely fantastic” diversity coordinator who hosts group sessions to “understand what associates are looking for.” Discussions in the women’s group lead to the firm extending parental leave to 18 weeks: “We talked about it and someone took the idea to management. Within a couple of weeks, they’d made the change!” A 14.2% female partnership lags behind even the legal market’s poor average, though the litigation department fares better than others.
“We talked about it and someone took the idea to management. Within a couple of weeks, they’d made the change!”
The Los Angeles office sponsors UCLA’s diversity recruitment event. Insiders told us they’d lobbied to include the LA office in the firm’s 1L Diversity Fellowship program: "The firm is making a concerted effort to get diverse people in." New York leads the way on this, and has been hiring diversity fellows since 2017. DC has a more diverse partnership than other bases, but insiders were disappointed that all eight new partners in the 2019 round were white men. The firm added five women partners in 2020, three of which were promoted internally. “They say they really want to work on diversity, but it makes me wonder how aggressively they’re addressing it,” one noted. More positively, the firm has an on-site health center in New York, and channels that attorneys can reach out to for mental health support and help with stress management.
Interviewees felt the firm goes “above and beyond” with training; there are “constant” professional development opportunities including a free writing coach for litigators. DC sources had recently completed three days of deposition training. Every source we spoke to was excited by the annual Milbank@Harvard program. Fourth to sixth-years spend a week at the university learning business savvy, “which is integral because being fluent in that language puts us ahead of counterparts at other firms.” Much of the firm’s training is built around forging client relationships, though a source noted that in all topics ”people here are really excited to impart their knowledge if you show interest.”
Milbank sets a formal requirement to bill at least 25 hours of pro bono a year. It's all counted as equivalent to billable work “and you can do as much as you want” (while keeping up with other assignments). Newbies are assigned a pro bono matter when they arrive at the firm and attend a meeting in their first week where they’re encouraged to “bring in work we’re passionate about and run with it.” Thereafter, the dedicated pro bono counsel coordinates matters from the New York HQ: “It’s very important to the firm and they’re invested in making sure all associates do it.” One associate appreciated “the fact that you can make pro bono what you want it to be.”
“It’s very important to the firm and they’re invested in making sure all associates do it.”
Stuck for ideas? The New York team has a lot of experience in children’s law and handles immigration matters; as does DC, which also attracts a fair amount of clemency work. Associates in Los Angeles often represent victims of domestic violence. Our interviewees had also worked with the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund on legal name changes and got involved on uncontested divorce cases.
Pro bono hours
- For all US attorneys: 45,050
- Average per US attorney: 81
Strategy and Future
Milbank chairman Scott Edelman gives his take on what future growth will mean for associates: "As the firm gets bigger and we take on more and more complicated work, associates get a more diverse experience in the matters they handle," he explains. "Our strategy has always been about expanding but in a controlled way; we want to grow revenue, profits and our brand but not at the expense of the quality of our people or our culture." For the full interview with Edelman, head to the Bonus Features tab.
Milbank has moved its summer program dates back in order to possibly accommodate some portion of the program in-person; it will now run from June 8 to August 14. In any case, the program will begin remotely; whether or not some portion of it can be held in-person will depend on federal and state guidelines, which are still to be determined.
The firm aims to conduct the program as normal, with offers to be made at the end of the summer: "We expect our offer rate to be consistent with our historical practices." Milbank will recruit the same number of first year associates as normal.
The first stage: recruitment on and off campus
OCI applicants interviewed: 1,241
Interviewees outside OCI: 44
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 2019, 40% came 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 one third diverse and is evenly divided between women and men.”
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 U.S. 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: 413
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. This past summer that 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
Chambers Associate: Have there been any developments at the firm over the past year that you would like our readers to know about?
Scott Edelman: We changed our name from Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy to Milbank and have rebranded so we now have a more modern, sleek look that is a better representation of our brand. We also moved to Hudson Yards, Manhattan at the beginning of 2019, which is a really terrific space and we’re going to be relocating the London office to a similarly contemporary space. All of this is to show the market that we’re proud of heritage, but we’re very different now compared to 50 or even ten years ago. We’ve moved beyond out Wall Street roots and have become an elite firm globally. We are also a leader in compensation, having raised associate salaries and leading on bonuses; we hit $1 billion in revenue in 2018, which is also exciting!
CA: How have these developments affected assoicates?
SE: As the firm gets bigger and we take on more and more complicated work, associates get a more diverse experience in the matters they handle. The scale we’ve accomplished has enabled us to invest in associates, not only by moving to a new our office, but in our training programs: Milbank@Harvard, Advocacy Milbank and Deals@Milbank means their education doesn’t stop as soon as they leave school.
CA: What do you hope the firm will look like in a couple years' time?
SE: Our goal has always been to keep doing what we’re good at, but to hire and promote people to make us even better: our strategy has always been about expanding but in a controlled way; we want to grow revenue, profits and our brand but not at the expense of the quality of our people or our culture. We will always focus on our pro bono and community commitments.
CA: How do you think the profession has changed since you started practicing?
SE: Technology has really changed the working experience – in good and bad ways. When I started I had to be in the office at all times, but now I can work from anywhere. On the other hand, people are tethered to their cells wherever they are located. The proliferation of email has totally changed the way we litigate. We used to have to go through a bunch of boxes filled with document, but now we go through tons of emails. Law constantly changes, but that’s what makes the job interesting.
CA: What are the main challenges facing lawyers and their firms at the moment?
SE: The job is very demanding. Changes in technology mean you’re always on the phone, while the amount of profitability means clients have the right to expect a very high level of performance. The work we do here often affects multiple countries or legal issues, which requires as lot of work and commitment, but also means it’s very rewarding.
CA: Why did you decide to become a lawyer?
SE: I always knew I wanted to be a lawyer. My father was a lawyer and we talked about it a lot when I was growing up. I used to go to meetings with him and did a lot of debating in High School and College which made it a natural transition.
CA: Looking back at your career and the knowledge you've gained, what advice would you give to students who are about to enter the legal industry?
SE: Don’t become a lawyer unless you really love law. You have to really throw yourself into this job because, like most things in life, you get out what you put in. It becomes more fun as you get more experience, and that means investing time and effort.
Becoming a project finance lawyer
From desert solar projects you can see from space to the world's largest cheese factory – Milbank's globe-trotting lawyers take you through their complex project finance practice.
Transportation and space
Ever wondered what it might be like to help launch a constellation of satellites? Or fly in an aircraft you've helped to finance? Join Milbank's transportation and space experts as they take you through their global practice.
55 Hudson Yards,
- Head Office: New York, NY
- Number of domestic offices: 3
- Number of international offices: 9
- Worldwide revenue: $1,034,020,000
- Partners (US): 115
- Counsel (US): 21
- Associates (US): 374
- Main recruitment contact: Ann Bjornstad (email@example.com)
- Hiring partner: Rod Miller
- Diversity officer: Dennis Quinio
- Recruitment details
- Entry-level associates starting in 2020: 58
- Clerking policy: Yes
- Summers joining/anticipated 2020: 1Ls: 2, 2Ls: 65, 3Ls: 0, SEO: 2
- Summers joining/anticipated 2020 split by office: NY 56, LA 7, Washington, DC 4
- Summer salary 2020: 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, 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, 2020
- 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 2)
- Real Estate: Mainly Corporate & Finance (Band 3)
- Tax (Band 3)
USA - Nationwide
- Banking & Finance (Band 2)
- Bankruptcy/Restructuring (Band 1)
- Capital Markets: Securitisation (Band 3)
- Energy: Electricity (Transactional) (Band 4)
- 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 (Band 4)
- Tax: Corporate & Finance (Band 4)
- Transportation: Aviation: Finance (Band 1)