For tech pro MoFo there's no such thing as a pro bono no-no.
THOUGH MoFo’s amusing moniker actually hails from its abbreviated call name on a 1970s technology called ‘teletype,’ the firm's decision to keep it reflects a lot about the firm. Its website speaks of ‘the MoFo mojo,’ which associates described as “a type of cool – we take our work seriously but we’re not uptight. Everyone’s down to earth while being amazing at what they do.” This is reflected in the firm’s commitment to social justice through its women's rights and pro bono work.
Despite the firm's size, diversity in work and geographic spread, one thing that united all associates we spoke to was the fact that they’d been “super busy this year.” We asked managing partner Craig Martin just why there’s been so much going on at the firm this past year. “It’s a result of investments the firm's been making over several years. Different practices have yielded some very large matters – that has translated into associates being really busy on extremely interesting projects,” he tells us. This flurry of activity has certainly paid off: MoFo recently posted a record revenue result and broke the billion-dollar mark in 2017.
MoFo’s reputation for working with technology businesses is reflected in its client list: BlackBerry, Uber, Honda, Nikon and Yahoo! are just the tip of the tech client iceberg. The firm acts for businesses active in developing areas of technology and science all across the world, including booming markets in Korea and Singapore. Martin tells us: “We really do think of ourselves as a technology firm. That is largely a reflection of the clients we represent. For example, we acted for Toshiba on the $18 billion sale of its memory card business. That was the largest private equity deal ever in Asia.”
MoFo unsurprisingly picks up Chambers USA rankings for its technology teams, as well as its intellectual property and privacy & data security groups. Other areas of note are finance, M&A, outsourcing, environmental law, government contracts and general commercial litigation.
Many new junior associates join litigation while a smaller but sizable chunk are in corporate. Some end up in finance and a few join tax. Work assignment is a casual affair. Assigning partners do exist, but not in all groups. Many associates in groups with a free-market system said that they'd prefer to have a more active assigning partner to turn to –“it’d help level the playing field in terms of hours.”
Litigators, while generalists, can explore different subgroups: antitrust, employment, securities and white-collar, commercial litigation and IP litigation. Palo Alto focuses mainly on IP. Clients across litigation subgroups vary from Uber to big pharma to “a case about barbecue sauce,” but the main theme is that there are “lots and lots of big tech clients.” One interviewee told us of their involvement in a case: “I've been involved in drafting a motion to dismiss against a complaint, replies to summary judgment and expert discovery.” Then there’s the typical junior associate legal research, memo writing and doc review which you'll find at any BigLaw firm, though juniors told us: “It has taken up less time than I thought it would.”
In corporate, juniors are split between the tech transactions, patents and general corporate subgroups (the last of these covers private equity, M&A and venture capital). In tech transactions, MoFo has “clients ranging from multinational, multibillion-dollar corporations to startups that are just trying to get off the ground with a new app or gadget.” Juniors draft development and manufacturing agreements as well as “bigger asset agreements.” The work is “a roller-coaster – it’s feast or famine.” In the private equity and M&A practices, there’s “a very strong focus on energy and 90% of that is renewables.” One associate elaborated: “I enjoy working on renewable energy transactions, as it’s for a good cause.” Juniors can expect to “help with anything from running diligence to drafting project contracts and purchase agreements.” The big-name clients lawyers work with were seen as a bonus. “I love working for a huge client that everyone knows about," one interviewee said. "It's really cool!"
Training & Feedback
For induction “everyone comes to the San Francisco HQ and gets an intro to the mechanics of the firm” – that's every new attorney from every office, worldwide. There are training sessions on practice area basics, communicating with clients and developing your own practice, as well as lots of socializing. “It’s a great opportunity – I met colleagues from the other side of country who I now work with regularly.”
After the induction, first years get weekly mandatory training on practice area specifics such as discovery, responses to complaints and merger agreement clauses. Some juniors suggested that “weekly training can feel like too much when you have a significant workload.” Associates preferred on-the-job training: “The best way to learn is to wait until the first assignment comes in and fumble your way through the dark till you get to the other side!”
“Pro bono is a huge part of the culture here,” interviewees agreed. Many associates we spoke to spent a quarter or a third of their time on pro bono. We even heard of one associate who billed 1,000 hours on a single pro bono case in a year –“and it wasn’t their only one!” To get involved in pro bono all you have to do is “say ‘here are my interests’ and the coordinator will find you something almost immediately.”
“They practice what they preach when it comes to women’s rights.”
Work on offer includes immigration, veterans and housing cases. MoFo also takes on reproductive rights cases, including one case that aims to protect medics who work in abortion clinics. “A lot of firms wouldn't take on such politically polarizing work," one interviewee observed. "In a hostile political environment the firm's stepped forward to take a position. They practice what they preach when it comes to women’s rights.”
Pro bono hours
- For all attorneys across all US offices: 63,266
- Average per US attorney: 90
Many associates told us the emphasis on pro bono “makes for a kinder culture.” The pro bono work reflects the culture at large – “when we had the Northern California fires, the firm immediately decided to put together a handbook to help people affected who’d lost their homes. A whole bunch of people volunteered to write it and hand it out around California.”
Associates told us MoFo “cares about our community. People here are focused on well-being and happiness.” Associates weren’t shy to tell us about their political leanings either. "We don't exclude non-liberal people," said a junior, "but we do have a super liberal culture. That has to do with our roots in San Francisco, so for example we’re very LGBTQ friendly and we have more of a startup mentality.”
Startup mentality? In a firm founded in 1883? This we had to hear more about. "I wear jeans almost every day," said one interviewee in California. So far, so startup. "The firm really cares about its workers and about being really relaxed and cool at the same time." That fits the model too. And here's something else: "I feel like it’s a little bit quirky here. We’re all very open with each other – we work together but we socialize together too. For example, we have a regular catered attorney lunch where people come together and converse about life and politics. That can get a little touchy, but luckily we're all pretty much on the same page politically!"
At the time of our calls, there were a dozen or so juniors in the midsize offices in LA, DC and Palo Alto, with a handful in Denver, San Diego and Northern Virginia. Most associates were in the firm’s two largest offices, New York and San Fran, which each had 20 to 30 juniors at the time of our research.
Despite being on opposite sides of the nation, one associate told us, “the New York and San Francisco offices actually feel quite similar, which I wasn’t expecting. For example, they’re both in very modern buildings and really focused on sustainability.” This environmental focus is not surprising given the amount of work the firm does with sustainable energy clients. Associates were proud of their firm being “super eco-friendly – we're encouraged to compost, recycle, print double sided.” It even affects the way electricity is used – “the lights have sensors, so they’ll shut off by themselves. Sometimes if I don’t move for too long in my office, I have to move around to turn them back on!”
“Super eco-friendly – we're encouraged to compost, recycle, print double sided.”
MoFo's biggest office is in San Francisco's financial district. As you walk in, there’s “an open space with loads of beautiful artwork,” some of which is a bit… “weird.” The conference rooms have “amazing views of the Golden Gate Bridge and the city.” New York associates said that due to the firm's San Francisco origins, MoFo “disrupts that reputation of what a New York law office is” with its “laid back” feel. The DC office is apparently a little dated, so associates were excited about a planned move in 2020. “Everyone is looking forward to moving into a space that’s more designed for how modern law firms function,” a junior said. Palo Alto associates described the office as “like a little campus with a courtyard and pond in the middle.”
MoFo was the first BigLaw firm to have an openly gay chairman – Keith Wetmore. Associates agreed in general that “MoFo tries really hard, but it doesn’t feel the most diverse place, that’s for sure!” Despite this, there are “tons” of affinity groups: 28 to be precise – for women, LGBTQ attorneys, people of color, working parents and veterans.
“Affinity groups do a great job of organizing community service events,” a junior told us. One NYC-based group painted a mural in Hamilton Park. Other than that, affinity groups “do lunches, grab drinks, and invite in motivational speakers and leadership coaches.” A few California groups for people of color “put on an event where diverse people who own vineyards presented on how their companies succeed. And then we did some wine tasting!” Every two years the firm invites its diverse attorneys to its 'Diversity Summit,' complete with lectures and schmoozing opportunities. Plus, there’s a diversity and inclusion team that's “very active: it checks up on people regularly.”
Hours & Compensation
MoFo's billing target is 1,950 hours regardless of office. Associates told us: “It's easy enough to meet, as we’ve been pretty busy.” Everyone who hits 1,950 gets the same bonus, although “there's also an additional payout for anyone who bills 2,500.”
It’s pretty typical to work ten or 11 hours on any weekday, though when and where that gets done isn’t particularly important. “It’s as flexible as possible for BigLaw,” juniors agreed. Many work from home one or two days a week and we heard of departments where “what's great is that most people don't come in on Fridays.” MoFo uses a system whereby lawyers accrue holiday entitlement: 15 days maximum for first, second and third years everywhere but New York, where they can earn 20.
“Every mom I know took their entire six months off. There’s no stigma.”
The flexibility for parents was noted across the board, with the parental leave policy extended further in 2017 to 20 weeks. “This is why I love MoFo," shared one happy interviewee. "You get six months' fully paid maternity leave.” You also accrue vacation days while you're on leave. “What’s notable is that pretty much every mom I know took their entire six months off. There’s no stigma.” One associate told us: “MoFo have recognized it’s hard to keep women in BigLaw, especially moms. They're doing what they can to help that.” Reduced-hour schedules are available not only for parents, but any attorney at the firm.
Strategy & Future
The buzzword for MoFo attorneys in 2017 was ‘busy.’ “It’s been a good year for business," one associate observed. "We’ve got a number of large clients who have significant cases, and some matters that have been going on for years are coming toward closing or trial.” Associates noted that the firm “has placed a strategic priority on the renewable energy sector in particular,” although they added that decisions made by the Trump White House could have an adverse effect on renewables growth.
Managing partner Craig Martin tells us: “I’m hoping that the people who choose to join MoFo are going to find a firm that is in many ways very similar to the firm they’re reading about now.” According to Martin that's a firm which “continues to invest strongly” to bring in the “exciting deals and cases” that currently come its way.
Associates told us that MoFo attorneys are “high-performing self-starters willing to forge their own path.” However, bear in mind that “if you’re pompous or pretentious, there’s not really room for you here!” An associate told us of one unsuccessful interviewee “who was using SAT vocabulary words and just coming off as a really full of himself, which doesn’t fit in with our culture.”
Words of wisdom from juniors included the recommendation to “look for other experiences outside of law school that'll help you deal with the logistical and unexpected challenges that come up daily.” Associates were also impressed by people who are “excited to learn and excited to work in a team.” This is demonstrated when people ask the interviewer questions like "What kind of work do you do on a day-to-day basis?" and "How do I go about getting this responsibility?”
Interview with managing partner Craig Martin
Chambers Associate: We heard from associates that it’s been a busy year for the firm – just how busy has it been compared to other years and why?
Craig Martin: It has been very busy. You know, in part it’s the nature of the work that periodically you’re going to have surges, but I also think it’s a result of investments the firm's been making over several years. Different practices have yielded some very large matters – that’s translated into associates being really busy on interesting projects.
CA: You’re increasingly involved in the tech markets of booming markets such as Korea and Singapore – can you tell us a bit about your work in tech and the firm's reputation in the field?
CM: We really do think of ourselves as a technology firm. That is largely a reflection of the clients we represent. I think we have one of largest dedicated tech practices of any firm. That practice resides on both US coasts, in Europe, the UK, China, Japan and Singapore; it handles litigation as well as some very complex transactions in the tech space. For example, we acted for Toshiba on the $18 billion sale of its memory card business. That was the largest private equity deal ever in Asia.
I don’t know whether it’s attributable to new trade agreements or just a response to market forces both in Asia and in the US, but tech transactions have been increasingly prominent. They have made up a significant amount of our work this year.
CA: What were the highlights of 2017 for MoFo?
CM: I mentioned investments earlier and one way we have invested is through a number of significant lateral hires. We brought in John Carlin, who was assistant attorney general in the DOJ’s national security division. He’s building a global risk and crisis management group out of our DC office. Another great addition to the firm was a group of six IP litigators here in San Francisco who joined from Wilson Sonsini. The group included partners Stefanie Shanberg and Jennifer Schmidt, who have a track record of handling IP litigation matters for some great tech firms in the Bay Area.
We have also handled some fantastic work in corporate, finance and litigation. As well as the Toshiba sale, we represented warehouse operator GLP in its $11 billion buyout by a group of Chinese investors. We also represented Mobileye in their purchase by Intel and we’re handling a $12 billion Chapter 11 for Maxus Energy. We had jury verdicts in very significant matters for VMware this year as well as a US Supreme Court case for Sandoz. And we acted for SoftBank in their case over the Sprint merger.
CA: MoFo’s parental leave program has recently been extended – could you tell us a bit about the parental leave program and why it’s so important to MoFo?
CM: We rolled out a gender neutral policy at the beginning of the year – the primary caregiver gets 20 weeks of paid leave and five weeks of unpaid leave – a total of 25 weeks of parental leave. It’s been important for us because we’ve heard time and again that parental leave is important for people to stay with the firm and still raise a family. You can also combine the parental leave policy with reduced hours arrangements. That’s been important for us in retaining people who might otherwise see a choice between either raising family and being successful in a large law firm.
It has been very well received and it’s been an important aspect of helping people strike a work-life balance here at the firm. Another thing I’d add is that you can announce a great policy, but you’ve got to actually go and implement it. One place some firms fall down is expecting lawyers coming back from extended leave or embarking on reduced hours schedules to manage that on their own. That is just so challenging, and so we are making sure that we’re sitting down and talking to the lawyers who those folks are working with to make sure they understand how the paid leave policy and reduced hours will work. That's to make sure they know what to do in order to make it a successful arrangement for the person taking leave. Partners really want to make these things work, but might be unfamiliar with the policy or not understand how to make it work, so giving them guidance helps the many lawyers who return from leave or go on reduced hours.
CA: Your website mentions the ‘MoFo mojo.’ What does ‘MoFo mojo’ mean to you?
CM: Anybody you ask at the firm may give a slightly different answer to that, but for me it’s an intangible quality that informs the way that we conduct ourselves every day. One thing we always say about MoFo is that we take the work very seriously, but we don’t take ourselves very seriously. I also think we have a warm atmosphere where people value and respect each other and where formality and stuffiness are not encouraged at all. I think that ethos translates both into how we treat each other and how we interact with clients. I also think our clients recognize that our collegiality and informality ultimately leads to people communicating and cooperating in a way that yields the best service. And that of course is what it’s all about: making sure the clients receive the best service possible. We truly believe our culture, our ‘mojo,’ is a key competitive advantage for us, whether in recruiting, in winning and keeping clients, or in retention.
CA: Given that our readers won't potentially be joining your firm for a while, what do you hope the firm will look like in a couple of years?
CM: The deals we’re doing reflect strong relationships with a number of key clients. So I think they’re going to be joining a firm that will have continued to invest strongly in those relationships and has continued to place a very high value on its culture and maintaining that culture. I’m hoping that the people who choose to join MoFo are going to find a firm that is in many ways very similar to the firm they’re reading about now. But step by step we will continue to strengthen and grow the firm.
Interview with Diane Cardona Downs, chief legal talent officer at Morrison & Foerster
Chambers Associate: So what does ‘chief legal talent officer’ mean? What does your job entail?
Diane Cardona Downs: It has a pretty clear goal: I joined MoFo two and a half years ago and one thing that impressed me was how well developed the functions of recruiting, training, diversity and pro bono were – all had amazing staff behind them and great results. But the thing was they weren’t well connected. So all of those groups are now under the talent umbrella.
My role is to make sure we’re supporting people – we evaluate people and make sure those we hire get placed in the right department for their skill set. I make sure they get regular feedback and make sure the training director supports them with whatever they need help with.
CA: Could you give us a brief overview of your recruiting drive?
DCD: I think the broad, unhelpful answer is that we want the best talent wherever it comes from. The reality is that entry-level hiring is compressed into a month’s period of time. I hope someone figures out how to pop that bubble so we could have more time.
At the entry level, we screen 1,200 to 1,300 candidates to yield about a 75-strong 2L summer class. That’s pretty harrowing on both sides. But it doesn’t all happen in those months; we’re actively looking all year round. Through our social media campaign, through Chambers' publications. We screen all applications.
We’re looking for those qualities that will help serve clients: drive, ownership, intellect, flexibility, leadership qualities. Even in the most junior folk we’re looking for those qualities that will make them stand out to clients.
CA: What does the firm do to encourage diversity in recruiting?
DCD: We hire some 1Ls and have a two-year diversity program for hiring 1Ls with the hope they’ll stay with us for two years and join us. It’s named in honor of Keith Wetmore, who was chairperson for many years and recently retired, so it’s now the Wetmore Scholarship. He was the first openly gay chairperson of a law firm and focused a lot of the firm's resources both monetarily and in terms of culture on diversity.
It’s tough because we face the issue that not enough people are in the pipeline to satisfy the diversity wishes of every BigLaw firm. That’s why our 1L program is really important. We make sure to have our junior associates, who are most closely connected to their schools, reaching out to individuals they know, and we try to find ways to get to know them throughout the year. For example, students at Berkeley are invited to our holiday party to socialize with our associates and get a feel for our culture. When you’re connected to MoFo as a 3L we’re already asking you who you recommend as a 1L.
CA: What can a candidate do before the interview to stand out to MoFo?
DCD: There’s a lot of talk all the time about what the perfect resume is. It doesn’t really matter what things you are attracted to doing as long as you’re doing them to a high level of success and are passionate and engaged.
For example, we have no preference as to whether you've done Model UN, the National Honor Society or been traveling – anything can lead to a great story. The best thing a candidate can do when preparing for the OCI onslaught is to tell their story. When you prepare for interview, think ‘where have I had impact?’, ‘what was my role and how does that connect to my leadership abilities?’ Think broadly.
CA: Do you have any examples of atypical ‘stories’?
DCD: Some people out of law school look good on paper, but just because you have a good resume doesn’t mean you have a great story. I had a candidate once who was a leader of a Starbucks team. They thought they didn’t stand a chance against someone who'd done a fancy internship. But they were impressive because they could show how their experience could help them in the field of law. What they demonstrated was a skill in understanding clients and not tolerating sloppiness or incomplete work. That shows the drive that will help them succeed at MoFo.
CA: What can a candidate do to stand out once they get into the interview?
DCD: They should show interest specifically in us – I know how hard it is to do three or four interviews in a day, but remember that your interviewer is doing 22 in a row. So you need to impress upon us your story and why you want to be at MoFo.
CA: Do you have any tips for how to survive OCI interview days?
DCD: Maintaining energy, that’s challenging. Not every school offers this option, but at some schools we offer a hospitality suite. It’s good to come in and say hello and let us know who you’re interviewing with. If you notice that we’ve sent four partners to your campus, then that's a sure sign that we are interested.
CA: What can a successful applicant expect to get up to on MoFo’s summer program?
DCD: They can expect to be doing real client work. We bring them in for a few days of orientation – there’s more training throughout the summer, and we often host blended trainings for first years and summer. We also invite summers to attend upper-level training to see what that’ll be like. That training is usually on a new rule or new law, so they have just as much chance of following that training as a fourth-year associate.
We host special training for summers that’s a firm-wide view of the administration of the firm, practice leadership and all of our tools and resources for attorneys.
Of course we want to make sure summers are engaged and settling in – most of our events are designed to get people interacting. In California we go on a coastal hike and finish with an oyster bake – that’s pretty awesome. In New York we do a pizza tour of Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn. We try to highlight the city we’re in as well as providing opportunities for people to get to know each other. But we don’t want it to seem like if you’re an introvert or quiet that you can’t engage with us – so we pair people with a mentor. Summers can expect them to provide guidance, coaching, social events and training.
Morrison & Foerster LLP
425 Market Street,
- Largest Office: San Francisco, CA
- Number of domestic offices: 8
- Number of international offices: 8
- Worldwide revenue: $1,062,700,000
- Partners (US): 237
- Associates (US): 404
- Main recruitment contact: Nicole Wanzer, Director of Attorney Recruiting (email@example.com)
- Hiring partner: Craig Martin, Managing Partner
- Diversity officer: Natalie Kernisant, Director of Diversity and Inclusion
- Recruitment details
- Entry-level associates starting in 2018: 58
- Clerking policy: Yes
- Summers joining/anticipated 2018: 1Ls 17, 2Ls 69
- Summers joining/anticipated 2018 split by office: Los Angeles: 15, New York: 15, San Diego: 7, San Francisco: 30, Palo Alto: 10, Northern Virginia: 3, Washington, DC: 9
- Summer salary 2018: 1Ls: $3,750/week 2Ls: $3,750/week
- Split summers offered? Yes, on a case by case basis
- Can summers spend time in an overseas office? Yes
Main areas of work
Berkeley, Cardozo, Chicago, Columbia, Cornell, UC Davis, Duke, Fordham, George Washington, Georgetown, Harvard, Howard, McGill, Michigan, Northwestern, New York University, Penn, USD, Santa Clara, Stanford, UCLA, USC, Virginia, Yale
Recruitment outside OCIs:
Generally, about 20% of our summer class is made up of 1Ls who were hired outside of OCI. We also recruit a small number of 2Ls in advance of OCI on a write-in basis.
Summer associate profile:
Morrison & Foerster looks for individuals of exceptional intelligence whose academic and other achievements evidence their talent, motivation, energy and creativity.
Summer program components:
The summer program is intended to give summer associates a real sense of what it means to practice at MoFo.
Work is distributed using a central assignment system, taking into account your areas of interest. Typical assignments include writing briefs, motions, contracts and client memoranda, assisting in drafting and negotiation sessions, assisting in depositions and witness preparation and performing due diligence in corporate transactions, as well as pro bono assignments.
A variety of training programs are designed specifically for summer associates, including practice area presentations.
Each summer associate is assigned one or more mentors to help acclimate him or her to the firm. Mentors take their summer associates out to lunch, introduce their summer associates to the lawyers and staff in their practice group and office and act as a sounding board for any questions or concerns summer associates may have throughout the summer.
Linkedin:Morrison Foerster LLP
This Firm's Rankings in
USA Guide, 2019
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