MoFo is best known for its innovative, global-scale tech work, but when it comes to pro bono, this Cali-born firm is a real Foerster to reckon with.
Urban Dictionary might give you another definition of ‘mofo,’ but for attorneys at Morrison Foerster, MoFo means top tech work, strong pro bono opportunities, and international prestige. With the shiny BigLaw stamp to its name, you might assume that MoFo juniors are just small cogs in the machine who don’t really get any substantive work, but we were told that’s not the case at all. “At MoFo, you do get your hands dirty from a very early start,” one associate explained. “I have had the opportunity to work on things that others normally wouldn’t do for a few more years.” Juniors certainly get a taste of the big work and clients that MoFo has on offer, but for the associates we spoke to “it was the people that created excitement about joining the firm.” Its origins in the Bay Area don’t just mean that MoFo has access to all the big names in Silicon Valley, but also lend a slightly more relaxed, West Coast vibe to proceedings, which interviewees appreciated.
Again, if you look away from any definitions on Google and focus instead on Chambers USA, you’ll find that MoFo makes an impressive name for itself in the ranking tables. The firm’s IP patent prosecution and technology transactions groups are among some of its strongest practices in California, but MoFo boasts an impressive outsourcing department in New York, too. The firm’s work in government contracts, international trade and privacy & data security across the country is also particularly noteworthy. But wait, there’s more MoFo yet to come! With a brand-new office in Austin and a bunch of prominent ex-government officials lateraling into the DC office, MoFo is looking to continue growing its tech and transactional teams while investing heavily in its regulatory practice.
Strategy & Future
The key part of MoFo’s strategy is to grow in ways that serve its client base while still staying true to longstanding firm values, as managing partner Craig Martin tells us. There’s a new chair, Eric McCrath, who has already spoken to associates about his vision for the firm: “There was a lot about the culture and ensuring that there’s cross-office staffing and maximizing relationships,” according to one junior who attended McCrath’s talk. MoFo is also bolstering its use of legal technology, including the use of AI tools to assist with litigation and transactional work. Craig Martin explains: “We are transforming the firm into a data-driven organization. With the benefit of MIT and government research lab research, our data science team analyzes our work patterns, aiming to advance a host of efficiency projects.”
Associates on our list were placed in all ten of the firm’s US offices, but the New York, San Francisco, and DC branches held the most. Litigation was by far the most populated practice group, with corporate taking second place. Despite the existence of work coordinators at MoFo, associates soon ended up sourcing work more informally by asking or being asked by partners directly. According to one source, “a work coordinator is nice not so much in terms of getting work, but to have as a buffer in case you don’t feel comfortable saying no to a partner.” Getting work directly from partners might be a bit trickier for some: “You definitely have to be willing to put yourself out there with this system. You have to ask for what you want, but the opportunities are there.”
“People will give you work if they think they can trust you to do it.”
MoFo’s litigation department works on a range of matters, including (but not limited to) IP/patent, general commercial, class actions, antitrust, white-collar, securities, employment and privacy disputes. Juniors start their careers as general litigators, dipping in and out of these various areas. One associate beamed that they had “worked with tiny tech startups all the way up to big pharmaceutical and tech companies.” As a firm with such a large tech focus, much of the work was felt to be pretty specialized, so newbies can expect to do a lot of key factual and legal research. This background research was felt to impact the case strategy, as “what you find goes to clients and affects how partners and clients strategize on how to move forward.” Juniors often get the chance to take a first crack at drafting a response or motion, and senior associates and partners were said to provide detailed feedback to help them progress. As one interviewee summarized: “People will give you work if they think they can trust you to do it.”
“...it’s cool to be able to read about your deals in the paper!”
Litigation clients: Bumble, Chobani, Nexstar Media Group. Advised Northrop Grumman during a $1 billion environmental and toxic tort litigation case.
Juniors working in corporate get a taste of MoFo’s capacity to collaborate across offices, but particularly between the New York and DC bases: “It really does feel like I’m part of the firm and the corporate group as a whole across the entire world!” We were told that the DC office does a lot more capital markets work while private equity M&A is more common in New York. Juniors are assigned to a particular corporate subgroup from the get-go, and this associate especially enjoyed their time spent on public M&A transactions, “as it’s cool to be able to read about your deals in the paper!”
Corporate clients: SoftBank Group, FoodChain ID, Sky Harbour. Advised Unity Technologies on a $4.4 billion transaction with ironSource.
Tech is really one of MoFo’s premier practices, so associates in the technology transactions group get to work with “the best of the best, powerhouse names.” There’s a lot of crossover with specialist teams and the corporate group, but associates get involved in “a variety of public and private deals with large clients” as well as “different licensing and IP matters for smaller clients.”
Technology clients: Autodesk, Boyd Gaming, eBay. Advised Salesforce on its $27.7 billion acquisition of Slack Technologies.
MoFo offers a number of development schemes for associates, including free career counseling and optional coaching sessions, as well as partner mentorship opportunities. Each development program is pitched at an associate level (junior, midlevel and senior). Interviewees found the midlevel academy to be especially useful, as it focuses more on soft skills and “all the things that make up the practice that you don’t think of!” In addition to these overarching associate level programs, most practice groups at MoFo have a formal training curriculum.
“Being an alum of MoFo means something in the Bay Area especially, as there’s a lot of respect for the work we do.”
However, there’s also a more go-with-the-flow attitude to career development at MoFo. Many interviewees weren’t even sure if they wanted partnership: “If I make partner, I’ll make partner, and if I don’t, I’ll do something else!” While the partner path could seem unclear in the earlier stages, sources agreed that it would be attainable if they wanted it. Juniors told us that the firm encourages an open dialogue around future career moves outside of the firm, particularly in the DC office where associates often consider transferring into government roles. “Partners are happy to share their experience,” one source said. “They have connections and can place you based on your interests.” On the West Coast this source proclaimed that “any of the top tech firms will have MoFo alumni working within them. Being an alum of MoFo means something in the Bay Area especially, as there’s a lot of respect for the work we do.” We also heard that there's an active client secondment program for associates to take advantage of.
Although many of the associates we spoke with were based on the East Coast, they were all in agreement that the “generally relaxed” atmosphere was influenced by MoFo’s roots in San Francisco.However, this more relaxed culture “doesn’t limit the importance of the work or the quality of the lawyers. Being a West Coast-based firm that has since gone national and international does a lot to set the tone for the culture at a time when younger associates and law students are recognizing the importance of healthy working environments and relationships.” Sources found the mix of professionalism, high-level work and clients, and appealing culture to be a winner.
“Some of the conversations I’ve had with very senior partners concerned the best way to make a sweet potato pie.”
“It’s BigLaw, but MoFo provides the most compassionate, valuable BigLaw experience that I can have,” one source gushed, “we’re happy at this firm!” We heard that partners go out of their way to tell associates: “Chase me down if I’m not responding to you, don’t feel like you’re annoying me with emails! Make sure you get the answer you need so you can do your job.” The partners’ relationships with associates extend beyond the work, as they “genuinely care about you as a human being.” One associate commented: “Some of the conversations I’ve had with very senior partners concerned the best way to make a sweet potato pie.”
Diversity, Equity & Inclusion
MoFo regularly hosts DE&I events, and associates who attend or plan these can bill up to 50 DE&I hours. MoFo’s events are “not just limited to diverse candidates, the firm really gets everybody involved,” so we heard that a lot of attorneys are racking up those DE&I hours. Support networks are hugely important for lawyers – particularly for those who are diverse – so “it’s nice to know the firm understands that and is giving us billable time to connect with people within the firm.” This effort is also echoed in the various affinity groups offered at the firm. One associate commented that maintaining and improving diversity at MoFo is something the firm works hard on, and the representation is “good for BigLaw, but in my mind that’s still not enough.” Another mentioned: “I see the diversity and I take comfort in it.” Ultimately, associates felt that the firm has a way to go, but it’s definitely trying and that’s abundantly clear: “It’s one of those places where you are, in all your diverse glory, appreciated. They see people as people, but at the same time the differences that make you unique are not ignored. They are recognized and considered valuable.”
There’s no doubt that pro bono is a strength of the firm, and MoFo really puts its money where its mouth is. While other firms may place caps on billable pro bono, at MoFo it’s “truly unlimited.” Associates are encouraged to do as much as they want and can count all of it towards their billables. Multiple sources reported billing more than 100 hours of pro bono a year, with some doing a lot more. In terms of specific causes that the firm supports, “immigration and women’s rights seem to be the big ones right now, but the firm responds very quickly to whatever issue there is in the moment.” What’s more, while pro bono opportunities are often litigation-based, MoFo ensures that there’s the chance to do substantial transactional/corporate matters as well. “We have full-time pro bono attorneys at our firm who are really crucial when it comes to sourcing work and coordinating with clients,” one associate told us, adding: “I can employ the same skills I’ve gained with paid client matters on non-paying client work.” Not only is this work rewarding, but it’s also essential to early attorney development: “In general you get more responsibility on pro bono matters. It’s great to be the first point of contact for a client, and for junior associates to get that experience under their belt early on.”
Pro bono hours
- For all (US) attorneys: 62,128
- Average per (US) attorney: undisclosed
Hours & Compensation
Billable target: 1,950 hours for bonus eligibility
If it’s BigLaw, you can expect to work long hours and hopefully be well compensated for the hard graft you put in. MoFo certainly meets market standards for salary, and juniors told us that there’s enough work, pro bono opportunities, DE&I activities, and ‘firm legal service hours’ available to meet the 1,950 target and get a bonus.
“There’s not a ‘you work when the partner works’ mandate.”
Many of the associates we spoke with were very clear about setting boundaries with their work hours and found that “people are really respectful of your time.” There were times when associates had pulled an all-nighter, or work had overflown into the weekend, but sources had accepted that the nature of the job means that “sometimes it just gets busy, and you work until the work is done.” However, we heard that the firm makes a real effort to evenly allocate work to “make sure that one person isn’t drowning, and one person isn’t sitting around with nothing to do.” Interviewees were also pleased to tell us that “there’s not a ‘you work when the partner works’ mandate,” and found it easier to control their time. On the hybrid working front, there are core days when teams agree to come into the office to maintain in-person bonding and collaboration on projects.
The first stage: recruitment on and off campus
OCI applicants interviewed: 1,326
Interviewees outside OCI: 71
Partners typically conduct the interviews at OCIs, although senior associates may do so on occasion as well. Chief legal talent officer Diane Downs says “we encourage interviewers to build a rapport with students, ask behavioural questions and answer questions about the firm.” Downs says interviewers want to get “a memorable picture of who you are and how you will fit in as a member of one of our work teams.” To achieve this, we ask questions like Tell us about how you have worked well in teams in the past. Tell us about how you approached a difficult challenge and how that worked out. Tell us how your work impacted the work of the team.”
Top tips for this stage:
“A genuine interest in the firm you’re interviewing with goes a long way. Be sure to do your research and come prepared with questions about the summer program and the firm in general.” – Chief legal talent officer Diane Downs
Applicants invited to second stage interview:498 (442 from OCI, 56 from outside OCI)
Candidates meet with four to six attorneys during callbacks (some offices also include a lunch as part of the process). On arrival candidates are met by a recruitment team member, “who’ll walk them through the process for the day and be a contact between interviews to help interviewees feel comfortable.” Downs says “students should conduct research on the firm, practice area strengths at the firm and have an understanding of what the attorneys do.”
Top tips for this stage:
“It’s not just about selling your past accomplishments – it’s more about selling what you’ll do great here.” – a second-year junior associate
“Bring your energy and engage with our interviewers in a conversation that highlights what you bring to the table and avoid canned answers.” – Chief legal talent officer Diane Downs
Offers: 1Ls – 35 offers, 2Ls – 280 offers, Returning 2Ls – 51
Acceptances: 1Ls – 26 acceptances, 2Ls – 93 acceptances, Returning 2Ls – 45
Total Summer 2023 Class:164 (26 1Ls, 138 2Ls)
In some offices, summers come into the firm with an assigned practice area and will return to that practice area as a junior associate. In other offices, summers are invited to explore practice areas during their summer and will receive an offer to return to a specific practice area upon graduation. In those cases, “practice areas are chosen based on mutual interest and practice hiring needs,” according to Downs.
Summers get work from a central assignment system by a work coordinator (either a partner or senior associate). There isn’t a formal rotational system between practice areas, but Downs says the firm encourages students to explore different assignments “and remain curious throughout the summer.” Each office sets up orientation and training programs to integrate summers, and special activities “including sporting events and cultural events, as well as events that reflect each office’s unique geographic and cultural attributes.”
Associates said MoFo’s summer program is “designed to help you develop lasting relationships, because once you start at the firm it’s hard to find time to really hang out and have fun with the people you’re working with.”
Top tips for this stage:
“Summer associates will have ample opportunity to solicit feedback and should feel comfortable seeking and implementing feedback.” – Chief legal talent officer Diane Downs
Chief legal talent officerDiane Downs tells us the firm also likes “to incorporate pro bono opportunities and diversity events throughout the summer.”
Interview with managing partner Craig Martin
Chambers Associate: How would you describe the firm’s current market position?
We’re a market-leading firm in advising tech and life-sciences clients, financial companies, investment funds, and startups. We do high-value deals and high-stakes litigation.
CA: The firm is often described as a tech firm, but junior associates haven’t spoken much about that. How would you describe the firm?
Tech is a huge part of our client base. We work for four of the five biggest technology companies in the world and half of the top 20 biopharmaceutical companies globally. It goes back to our roots in the Bay Area and so many of our clients are tech companies. We are also advising clients who are investing in tech and life sciences, and that’s another way in which we touch the tech world.
CA: We’ve heard that the DC office, in particular the regulatory practice, has been targeted as an area of growth, why is that?
We grow the firm in a way that supports our clients. Our clients, particularly tech firms, are enduring greater regulatory scrutiny and have a growing need for assistance. To meet those needs, we’ve beefed up our national security, risk, white collar, and regulatory practices, and that has included our antitrust capabilities. We’ve hired Lisa Phelan, former chief of the national criminal enforcement and Washington criminal I sections of the antitrust division of the DoJ, and Alex Okuliar, former senior DoJ and FTC official, as co-chairs of our antitrust practice. In 2021, we also hired Brandon Van Grack, the former Chief of DoJ’s Foreign Agents Registration Act Unit and lead prosecutor for Special Counsel Robert S Muller III’s investigation of the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.
CA: The firm’s commitment to pro bono is legendary, where does that come from? What keeps the firm committed?
We were one of the first firms to have a fulltime pro bono counsel. Kathi Pugh headed that up–an extraordinary lawyer. She put an amazing effort into developing the opportunities and institutional infrastructure that we have today. Now, we have three fulltime dedicated pro bono counsel and two fulltime support staff to help attorneys to interact with outside organizations and to assist them with the work. We get a steady flow of meaningful work. I’d add that there’s a commitment to pro bono that permeates the firm’s culture. Our partners understand that we are going to take on ambitious matters, invest thousands of hours and hundreds of thousands of dollars, and our lawyers embrace it. For example, we were fighting early on for LGBTQ+ equality. We have been deeply involved in reproductive-rights cases. The final point is that we count pro bono as billable hours. We don’t impose a limit. Our attorneys get full credit for every pro bono hour. I think our reputation has helped us to attract people who are interested in pro bono causes. I think there’s a beneficial feedback loop.
CA: How is the firm changing to accommodate the needs/expectations of the next generation of lawyers?
We’ve focused on mental health and wellbeing. That’s a key part of our culture. In 2018, we kicked off a program focused on that. To destigmatize mental health, firm leaders shared their own personal mental-health stories. We take a holistic approach to health, under our Healthy MoFo program, which provides resources for overall health. We had launched a pre-pandemic survey to assess people’s needs and health, and during the pandemic we doubled down on making that a priority.
CA: What is the greatest challenge facing the firm in the next decade? How about the legal market more generally?
We will face the challenge of attracting, developing, and retaining top talent. We’re very focused on that. Our culture, our work on groundbreaking matters, and commitment to supporting our attorneys as they develop their careers are important aspects of that.
CA: What is your biggest retention challenge?
We’re in a hot market. All of our lawyers are highly sought after. All of them have a choice to go to other firms. Distinguishing ourselves, not just in terms of compensation, or in terms of benefits, but in terms of where you want to grow and belong meaningfully, is all the more important. That’s true for us and everyone else.
CA: How has the rise in legal technology affected the firm? Are you implementing any specific programs/initiatives with regards to technology?
Overall, it’s been a positive for us. We have managed to incorporate data and built a data science team to analyze what we’re doing and how we’re going about it. We’ve embedded AI to assist with certain diligence functions. There are many ways in which technology has helped us automate some of the things that were less fun in the practice of law. And, of course, it was crucial to get us through the pandemic.
CA: Any advice for those about to enter the legal industry?
I continue to believe that a practice in law remains extremely rewarding. It can be challenging, but the importance of choosing a firm carefully is that much more important. I would be looking for a firm that can clearly articulate their values and put them at the center of how they operate. The way that MoFo has treated its clients and colleagues, and our commitment to pro bono and social justice, are all things that are as important to selecting a firm as the work and are important in terms of retaining top talent once they arrive. Having an understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of the practice you’re interested in is important, but having an understanding of the people you’ll be working with every day is absolutely crucial.
425 Market Street,
Main areas of work
Benjamin Cardozo School of Law, Boston College, Boston University, Columbia University, Cornell University, Fordham University, George Washington University, Georgetown University, Harvard University, Maurice A. Deane School of Law-Hofstra, Howard University, McGill University, New York University, Northwestern University, Santa Clara University, Stanford University, UC Berkeley, UC Davis, UC Hastings, UC Irvine, UCLA, University of Connecticut, University of Chicago, University of Michigan, University of Pennsylvania, University of San Diego, University of Southern California, University of Texas–Austin, University of Virginia, Yale University.
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, 2023
- Antitrust (Band 4)
- Banking & Finance (Band 4)
- Corporate/M&A: Deals in Asia (Band 1)
- Intellectual Property: Patent Litigation (Band 1)
- Intellectual Property: Patent Prosecution (Band 1)
- Intellectual Property: Trademark, Copyright & Trade Secrets (Band 1)
- Labor & Employment: The Elite (Band 4)
- Life Sciences (Band 2)
- Litigation: General Commercial: The Elite (Band 2)
- Litigation: Securities (Band 2)
- Technology: Transactions (Band 1)
- Venture Capital (Band 3)
California: San Francisco, Silicon Valley & Surro
- Corporate/M&A: The Elite (Band 3)
- Real Estate (Band 4)
District of Columbia
- Antitrust (Band 5)
- Intellectual Property: Litigation (Band 3)
- Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations (Band 4)
- Banking & Finance (Band 3)
- Bankruptcy/Restructuring: The Elite (Band 3)
- Corporate/M&A: Highly Regarded (Band 4)
- Litigation: General Commercial: Highly Regarded (Band 2)
- Litigation: Securities (Band 5)
- Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations: The Elite (Band 3)
- Outsourcing (Band 1)
- Real Estate: Mainly Corporate & Finance (Band 4)
USA - Nationwide
- Appellate Law (Band 3)
- Banking & Finance (Band 5)
- Bankruptcy/Restructuring: The Elite (Band 3)
- Corporate Crime & Investigations: The Elite (Band 4)
- Corporate/M&A: The Elite (Band 4)
- Derivatives (Band 4)
- FCPA (Band 2)
- Financial Services Regulation: Banking (Compliance) (Band 5)
- Financial Services Regulation: Consumer Finance (Compliance) (Band 3)
- Financial Services Regulation: Consumer Finance (Litigation) (Band 3)
- Food & Beverages: Regulatory & Litigation (Band 4)
- Government Contracts: The Elite (Band 1)
- Intellectual Property (Band 2)
- Intellectual Property: Appellate (Band 1)
- International Trade: CFIUS Experts (Band 4)
- International Trade: Export Controls & Economic Sanctions: The Elite (Band 4)
- International Trade: Intellectual Property (Section 337) (Band 4)
- Life Sciences (Band 3)
- Outsourcing (Band 3)
- Privacy & Data Security: The Elite (Band 1)
- Projects: Agency Financing (Band 1)
- REITs (Band 2)
- Retail (Band 4)
- Retail: Corporate & Transactional (Band 2)
- Securities: Litigation (Band 4)
- Startups & Emerging Companies (Band 3)
- Tax: Controversy (Band 5)
- Technology (Band 1)