Top-tier tech practices, “a long-standing commitment to pro bono,” and a Cali cool culture? It must be MoFo.
“THERE are a lot of stories spread in law school about BigLaw being incredibly intense, scary and cut-throat. I didn’t want that.” This was a view we heard across all our interviewees at MoFo. “I don’t have a Type-A personality and I’m not super competitive. I was looking for a firm where the people would be down-to-earth and could have a joke in the hallways.” Now that doesn't sound like a particularly tall order, but combined with the desire for a “prestigious name” and “access to top-notch work in the technology space,” our interviewees had their doubts. Enter MoFo. “When you do your callback interviews, you often have these stilted interactions,” one explained, “but with MoFo I met a bunch of people I thought could be friends with – at least in an alternative universe without the parameters of an interview scenario!”
You’d be mistaken to associate MoFo’s friendliness with second-rate work. A glance at Chambers USA reveals an array of nationwide rankings, with particular recognition for its privacy & data security and government contracts capabilities. The firm has several state-level rankings, notably in New York and even more so in California, where the firm has headquarters in San Francisco and offices in LA, Palo Alto, and San Diego. The Cali bases scoop high rankings in IP, life sciences, and commercial and securities litigation, and a couple of top rankings in IT and outsourcing, and corporate/M&A in Asia. One source described the firm “as a bridge between Japan and the broader Asia-Pacific area and the West Coast of the USA.” True enough, Chambers Global bestows strong rankings for MoFo’s corporate capabilities in the Asia-Pacific region, where the firm has offices in Beijing, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Singapore, and Tokyo. A couple of tip-top rankings in Japan demonstrate its expertise in that market specifically. The firm also has bases in London, Brussels, and Berlin. MoFo’s attorneys juggle this top-notch work with a “a long-standing commitment to pro bono,” something that sated the appetites of our socially conscious associates.
Associates tend to remain generalists for their first two years before specializing in their third thanks to “a very entrepreneurial” free-market work assignment system that sustained their appetites for “a wide range of practice areas.” The DC office houses a lot of the government-facing, national security and regulatory work, New York the more traditional corporate practices, while the West Coast offices handle most of the firm’s patents, venture capital and emerging companies work. However, associates emphasized that “people are encouraged to build teams across offices – it’s about who has the time and interest rather than the availability in an office.” A DC junior told us: “I constantly work with colleagues in San Francisco and London.” More than half of the juniors were housed in the California offices, with San Francisco accounting for the lion’s portion. New York housed 20% and DC accounted for 10%. Boston, Denver and Northern Virginia had just a handful of juniors apiece.
“I’ve been helping manage three trademark cases for the past year.”
MoFo’s SLEW group encompasses the firm’s securities litigation, enforcement and white-collar defense practices. Investigations work was of intrigue to many of our interviewees: “I like that it’s more fact finding and reporting than legal writing and research – which is weird because I’m a lawyer,” one New York junior joked. “In the doc review stage, I might help produce interview outlines, thinking how best to prepare the client for its talks with the government,” a DC source described. “I also conduct presentations to the government providing an investigation update.” Later in the process, others reported “helping to prepare for internal hearings, and putting together recommendations to clients based on our findings.” Conversely, responsibility in IP litigation was much more legally orientated. “I’ve been helping manage three trademark cases for the past year and my responsibility has been huge,” one praised. “There have been the more mundane tasks such as developing meeting agendas, but I’ve also drafted motions to dismiss, counterclaims and motions for summary judgments. It never feels like I’ve been limited by my class year.”
Litigation clients: New York City Council, Clearwater Analytics, Etsy, Walmart.com. Represented Uber in a trade secrets dispute with Google’s autonomous vehicle subsidiary, Waymo, as it sought over $1 billion in damages.
The corporate group covers M&A, private equity, capital markets, funds, patent prosecution and tech transactions. The last of these is an area of particular strength for the firm – Chambers USA ranks the practice as one of the best in California. Based mostly out of the San Francisco office, the group does M&A and commercial deals for clients in the technology and life sciences sectors. “Your knowledge has to be a mile wide and an inch deep,” one source told us, adding: “We are advising a lot of entrepreneurs who might not even have a company yet, so we have to be their first point of contact for any legal issues. That might mean having to delve into commercial and employment law issues.” Another source told us: “Under supervision from a partner, I’ve taken charge doing most of the drafting and negotiations on a Series A financing.” In the later stages of a company’s lifecycle, juniors also had the chance “to work on big M&A transactions,” taking on more of an administrative role.
Corporate clients: Visa, SoftBank, Fannie Mae, McAfee. Represented BlackBerry on its $1.4 billion acquisition of AI and cybersecurity company Cylance.
“It’s very exciting working with early stage companies, to see their founders’ passions and to see their company progress.”
There was room for both transactional or litigious work with MoFo’s patent group. “It sits within the wider corporate umbrella,” one source in San Diego explained, “but I’d say that one third of my time is spent assisting the patent litigation team. Shortly after joining the firm I was given my own portfolio to run with, which included a patent that had been filed in multiple countries. My job was to respond to any rejections we received and to help develop amendments to the patent claims. It was a lot of back and forth!” On the patent prosecution side, “I draft patent applications and will work with foreign counsel to enforce them.” Another added: “It’s very exciting working with early stage companies, to see their founders’ passions and to see their company progress.”
Patent clients: Biotechnology companies Genentech and Gilead Sciences, German pharmaceutical company Bayer, University of California. Acted for Dynavax Technologies on the patent strategy for an HBV vaccine.
Culture & Pro Bono
Law firms tend to reject suggestions that they have political leanings, but the juniors at MoFo felt that the nature of the firm's pro bono commitment was at the very least indicative of a slight lean to the left. “There’s a willingness to take on controversial topics," sources said, "be it abortion litigation or voting rights cases.” One source shared: "I think if I was right-leaning politically, I might be frustrated at the firm," and quipped: "I don’t think you’d be given the latitude to do cases where you’d be defending the NRA for example!" That said, the firm assured us that all associates can take on pro bono work that aligns with their beliefs and values.
There’s no limit to how much pro bono associates can bill, which juniors fully embraced. “There are people who’ve done over 500 hours of pro bono and received no pushback,” one junior told us, relaying that associates had worked on everything from “salmon conservation projects” to “stop-and-search abuse cases.” And it’s “not just juniors putting in the work” either. Juniors in San Francisco were really impressed to see “the most senior litigator – at 85 years old! – trying to secure an alleged terrorist’s due process rights.”
Pro bono hours
- For all US attorneys: 59,664
- Average per US attorney: 88
“Right now, I’m walking into the office wearing socks, loafers and my polo. I don’t think I’ve ever worn a suit at the office.”
Many attributed this liberal current to the firm’s California roots. “We don’t take ourselves seriously and strive to maintain a flat hierarchy,” juniors said, elaborating: “We don’t follow the format where a partner instructs a senior associate, who relays that to the mid-level associate, and so on – juniors have direct contact with everyone from the get-go.” You can often judge how laid-back a firm really is by the dress code. “Right now, I’m walking into the office wearing socks, loafers and my polo. I don’t think I’ve ever worn a suit at the office.”
Sources figured these features were the inevitable result of brushing shoulders with the startup world, “where you have 25-year-old kids running multimillion-dollar companies. They reject traditional hierarchies and have forced the legal market to adapt. We don’t have people thinking they are superior to you just because they’re a few years older.” Even in the more high-pressure New York market, associates reported similar sentiments. “We’re the furthest thing from a fratty firm,” one New Yorker stated, adding that “it’s neither common nor expected for you to spend all your time with co-workers.”
A positive culture wasn’t just a nicety for our interviewees – it was essential. “As a smaller operation in New York” – the office has a headcount of around 150 – “we can’t risk associates burning out as it creates a black hole in our staffing.” Fortunately, juniors here said the firm was “really good at retaining associates.” Those in San Francisco however were pained to point out "making partner is so hard,” while associates in San Diego had the impression that partners “pick a couple of associates to mentor and the rest to go in-house.” One source said trading in BigLaw for in-house life was characteristic of the region: “A lot of people are tempted to go to one of the tech companies in the region, which tend to pay very well and have a ‘cool’ factor about them.”
Hours & Compensation
There was more speculation about what was “affecting morale” in San Francisco, as one source explained: “There are new associates struggling to make hours, and then there are others billing way in excess of the hours target.” The firm doesn’t disclose its billable hours requirement, but interviewees told us they’re expected to bill a minimum of 1,950 hours. To receive a market-rate bonus, attorneys need to hit the target, with an additional lump sum added on for those who bill over 2,500 hours – which wasn’t unheard of. One overachiever “was put on a reduced hours schedule” after billing beyond the minimum.
Those on the West Coast were no strangers to ten-hour days “and if it’s a really busy day, that might get to 12 hours.” In DC“the office environment is try and get out for 8pm and log on back at home.” Those who prefer a lighter schedule can opt to work on a reduced hours schedule (with reduced pay), though “it’s not highly advertised,” juniors told us. “It’s mostly for returning parents.”
Diversity & Inclusion
Despite acknowledging the problem of diversity in BigLaw, most had confidence in the firm’s efforts to increase the number of women at partnership level. “They’re very serious about it,” one praised, “and I’ve seen a lot of young female partners made up recently.” The firm’s women’s group also puts on events including annual West Coast and East Coast retreats. “We recently had a talk from Dahlia Lithwick on her experience at the Supreme Court,” one junior reported.
“A new group to better represent people with disabilities.”
Sources were less optimistic where about the representation of ethnic minorities, particularly in places such as San Diego, “where the pool of candidates we’re recruiting from is already less than the national average.” Still, even here sources reported on efforts to “provide implicit bias training” and pointed out that the firm “has been very vocal about attracting diverse laterals.” A junior in the DC office also brought our attention “to the formation of a new group to better represent people with disabilities.”
Strategy & Future
Associates felt MoFo did “a good job of communicating where the firm is going. There’s inevitably a PR gloss, but it seems to me they’re trying to make lateral partner hires into groups where we already have strength in.” One interviewee pointed out that “they’re looking to build up a very strong national security practice in DC,” in particular, adding that “they’ve recently hired a lot of former government officials in the office.” The most recent of these hires at the time of writing, includes Michael Dobson, a former senior advisor in the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control.
The first stage: recruitment on and off campus
OCI applicants interviewed: 1,460
Interviewees outside OCI: 46
Last year MoFo conducted OCI interviews at 28 law schools and resume drops at 26. Depending on the school, the firm might see as few as 12 students or as many as 120. It also attended three job fairs – the Bay Area Diversity Career Fair, Loyola Chicago Patent Law Interview Program and Lavender Law Career Fair.
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 behavioral 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. 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 you 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: 582
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: 105 (1Ls – 30 offers; 2Ls – 75 offers)
Acceptances: 94 (1Ls – 27 acceptances; 2Ls – 67 acceptances/3 open offers)
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 officer Diane Downs tells us the firm also likes “to incorporate pro bono and diversity throughout the summer.”
Interview with managing partner Craig Martin
Chambers Associate: As a firm that works closely with the technology sector, how difficult is it for the firm to keep up with the speed of technological change?
Craig Martin: You’re right, it’s evolving very quickly, and this can create legal and technical issues that aren’t clearly addressed within the framework of the law. It means we need to closely monitor advances in tech and the market forces affecting our clients to ensure we can effectively counsel them– it’s something we spend a great deal of resources doing.
Our clients themselves tend to be innovative and are often considered disruptors within the sectors in which they operate. That means it can be a challenge for us to keep up, as they inevitably ask hard questions we must be prepared to answer. Fortunately, our lawyers often bring with them a strong technical background which gives them a leg-up in trying to understand the tech. Many of our client relationships are also long-standing ones, which means we have seen their products as they have evolved over time and often it’s us who bring them into the marketplace for the first time.
CA: What impact has technology had on the relationship between firm and client?
CM: The pace of the practice continues to accelerate; we like it like that because it feeds into the strength of the firm, which is an ethos around client service. Aspiring to provide legendary client service is something our lawyers are trained to do from day one. I think the pace is certainly driven by tech and ease of communication, but also by an increasingly competitive business environment. They are equally under pressure to meet and respond to the needs of their own customers.
CA: Looking ahead to the next five to ten years, are they are any sectors or practice areas that have been marked for growth?
CM: The firm strives to maintain a strong practice and geographic balance. However, there are areas we are focused on, including: M&A, litigation, privacy, investigations and enforcement, private equity, and restructuring & insolvency. In terms of geography, we are primarily looking to grow in New York, London, and San Francisco. We opened an office last year in Boston, which has been a great success.
CA: How is the firm catering to the wants and needs of the newest generation of lawyers?
CM: Our associates are more technologically savvy than those 10 years ago. They expect to be given the best tools to get the job done, including a swift and reliable system that allows them to work remotely. Also, the nature of the conversation with associates has changed. They come in expecting to work hard, but I think they are also mindful of the stresses that any kind of work in our profession involves and that in turn has inspired a deeper conversation about mental health and wellbeing.
CA: How would you define the culture of the firm?
CM: I would take it back to a talk one of the founders of the firm gave to some of the firm’s new partners decades ago. He described a culture where we compete very hard against our adversaries on behalf of clients, but where we never compete against our colleagues. Internal competition is taboo at the firm. There is the strongest emphasis on collaboration.
Morrison & Foerster LLP
425 Market Street,
- Largest Office: San Francisco, CA
- Number of domestic offices: 9
- Number of international offices: 8
- Worldwide revenue: $1,042,800,000
- Partners (US): 225
- Associates (US): 384
- Main recruitment contact: Nicole Wanzer, Director of Attorney Recruiting (firstname.lastname@example.org)
- Hiring partner: Craig Martin, Managing Partner
- Diversity officer: Natalie Kernisant, Director of Diversity and Inclusion
- Recruitment details
- Entry-level associates starting in 2020: 61
- Clerking policy: Yes
- Summers joining/anticipated 2020: 1Ls 26, 2Ls 70
- Summers joining/anticipated 2020 split by office: Denver: 1, Los Angeles: 6, New York: 15, San Francisco: 33, Northern Virginia: 3, Washington, DC: 23, Palo Alto: 12, San Diego: 4
- Summer salary 2020: 1Ls: $3,654/week (approx.) 2Ls: $3,654/week (approx.)
- Split summers offered? Yes, on a case by case basis
- Can summers spend time in an overseas office? Yes
Main areas of work
American Univ., Washington College of Law, UC Berkeley School of Law, Boston College Law School, Boston Univ. School of Law, Cardozo Law School, Univ. of Chicago Law School, Columbia Law School, Cornell Law School, UC Davis School of Law, Duke Univ. School of Law, Fordham Univ. School of Law, George Washington Univ. Law School, Georgetown Univ. Law Center, Harvard Law School, UC Hastings College of the Law, Maurice A. Deane School of Law-Hofstra, Howard Univ. School of Law, McGill Univ. Faculty of Law, Univ. of Michigan Law School, Northwestern Pritzker School of Law, NYU School of Law, Univ. of Pennsylvania Law School, Univ. of San Diego School of Law, Santa Clara School of Law, Stanford Law School, Suffolk Univ. Law School, UCLA School of Law, Univ. of Connecticut School of Law, UC Irvine School of Law, USC Gould School of Law, Univ. of Virginia School of Law, Yale Law School
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, 2020
- Banking & Finance (Band 4)
- Corporate/M&A: Deals in Asia (Band 1)
- Environment (Band 4)
- Intellectual Property (Band 2)
- Intellectual Property: Patent Prosecution (Band 1)
- IT & Outsourcing: Transactions (Band 1)
- Labor & Employment (Band 4)
- Life Sciences (Band 2)
- Litigation: General Commercial (Band 2)
- Litigation: Securities (Band 2)
- Venture Capital (Band 3)
California: San Francisco, Silicon Valley & Surro
- Corporate/M&A (Band 3)
District of Columbia
- Antitrust (Band 4)
- Intellectual Property: Litigation (Band 3)
- Banking & Finance (Band 3)
- Bankruptcy/Restructuring (Band 3)
- Corporate/M&A: Highly Regarded (Band 4)
- Litigation: General Commercial: Highly Regarded (Band 2)
- Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations (Band 4)
- Real Estate: Mainly Corporate & Finance (Band 3)
- Technology & Outsourcing (Band 1)
USA - Nationwide
- Appellate Law (Band 3)
- Bankruptcy/Restructuring (Band 3)
- Capital Markets: Derivatives (Band 3)
- Corporate/M&A: The Elite (Band 4)
- FCPA (Band 2)
- Financial Services Regulation: Consumer Finance (Compliance) (Band 2)
- Financial Services Regulation: Consumer Finance (Litigation) (Band 2)
- Government Contracts (Band 1)
- Intellectual Property (Band 3)
- Life Sciences (Band 3)
- Outsourcing (Band 3)
- Privacy & Data Security (Band 1)
- REITs (Band 2)
- Securities: Litigation (Band 5)
- Startups & Emerging Companies (Band 4)
- Tax: Controversy (Band 4)