This West Coast firm's lean staffing model gave applicants a hunger for Munger.
ONE of California-born Munger’s biggest selling points for associates was its 1:1 partner to associate ratio. “You’re not in a big pyramid structure so you get really good experience right away,” one source said. Another reflected: “When I visited I saw more homegrown partners and senior associates than I did at other firms.” Around two-thirds of junior associates are based in Los Angeles, followed by San Francisco and Washington DC – the last of these has hosted a handful of juniors since opening in 2016. Chambers USA awards Munger top rankings for a variety of different types of litigation work in California, including general commercial litigation, white-collar, securities, and media & entertainment.
Strategy & Future
"We are still a multi-practice firm; we do not have plans to focus on one area," says co-managing partner Malcolm Heinicke. "One thing that has come through loud and clear, however, is that we are a go-to firm when it comes to major trials around the country." He goes on to cite a few of the firm's recent successes: "We had a major antitrust win in Virginia for a company called Steves & Sons, as well as the pipeline litigation in Santa Barbara in which we successfully defended Plains Oil against charges. We won a case in New Mexico regarding whether there is a constitutional right to education. We also represented FX Networks in a defamation suit which resulted from complaints from Olivia de Havilland about how she was portrayed in ‘Feud’."
“I don’t anticipate the core elements of the firm changing,” one associate reflected. “We’re trying to grow targeted areas that are in keeping with our brand of cutting-edge work, high-caliber lawyers and nationally significant cases.” Another source added: “It’s really exciting to be a part of a firm that’s growing while insisting on quality rather than quantity.”
“… a firm that’s growing while insisting on quality rather than quantity.”
Before they start, associates state whether they wish to join the litigation or the corporate practice. When you join each group “there’s a committee that assigns work for people coming in the door, but after that it’s very much a free-market system.” First-years fill out a questionnaire on arrival which “helps gauge your interests,” but beyond that “it’s on you to make it happen if you want to work on something specific.” The vast majority of our interviewees were in litigation, with a couple in the firm’s corporate and real estate groups. Teams are staffed leanly, and a typical junior told us: “I’m often the only associate on a matter, which means I end up doing a bit of everything.” Associates on the West Coast had worked with regional clients in areas like technology and entertainment, whereas those in DC had dealt “primarily with national clients like major pharmaceutical companies and network providers.” However, associates can expect to work on a range of matters and with a variety of clients no matter what office they're in, as cross-staffing between the firm's bases is reportedly common.
“… within weeks I was writing briefs and motions on my own.”
Munger's litigation practice covers areas including antitrust, class actions, insurance, securities and white-collar. Juniors told us of working on general commercial cases, breaches of contract and toxic tort mass actions. One source reported: “I told partners I wanted substantive writing experience and within weeks I was writing briefs and motions on my own.” Typical second-year tasks include taking and defending depositions, meeting with opposing counsel, drafting motions in discovery and preparing witnesses. “If you write a brief the chances are there isn’t going to be somebody who reviews it before it goes to a partner,” one source said, reflecting on the direct interaction which the firm's low leverage ratio allows.
Litigation clients: American Express, Warner Bros., Universal Music, Genesis Capital. Successfully defended midstream energy company Plains All American Pipeline following a crude oil leak in Santa Barbara in 2015.
The corporate group is broad-based and covers M&A and private equity, plus it even has a high net worth private client practice. Corporate associates are “raised as an M&A attorney but also to have a generalist practice.” Interviewees said they had worked on both the buyer and seller sides of public and private deals, doing “all the due diligence, reviewing schedules and drafting warranties and ancillary agreements.” Juniors reported that “because it’s a smaller group than litigation, people are more aware of how busy you are, which is less daunting.” Another source gave an example of how the low leverage model works here: “Because of the way senior attorneys introduce juniors the clients don’t realize how junior we actually are, so there have certainly been times when it’s just been me with the client.” At the same time we also heard that “on billion-dollar deals there’s more structure in the group so you get less client contact, but on things for high net worth clients and when working on nondisclosure agreements you get a lot of responsibility.”
Corporate clients: Best Lawyers, Oaktree Capital Management, Resolver Inc, Genesis Capital. Represented founder and CEO of yogurt brand Siggi’s in its sale to French company Lactalis.
Our interviewees agreed that Munger adopts a “‘learning by doing’ mentality.” Litigators told us: “There is a deposition training program but at the end of the day you’re going to learn to take a deposition by doing one. That’s the Munger way.” While there’s a lack of handholding, juniors told us: “Most partners come up through the ranks so the business model is built on developing talent.” One second-year reflected: “It’s great to feel like you’re not restricted to one type of work and you can shape your own career, but it can be frustrating when you start out on an assignment and there’s very little guidance.” Another junior commented: “If you’re the kind of person who’s looking for confirmation or a checklist you won’t find it here.”
“… you’re going to learn to take a deposition by doing one. That’s the Munger way.”
A standout feature of life at Munger is the firm’s democratic approach to management. “We vote on literally everything,” one interviewee told us. This means that all attorneys get to vote on who joins the firm as well as strategic decisions like the opening of the DC office. Sources felt that this creates “a more horizontal structure where everyone’s voice can be heard.” One associate noted: “It can be like herding cats and sometimes verges on anarchy! The reason it works is because everybody here is so super smart.”
“It can be like herding cats.”
The system works through a number of committees, and “if you don’t join any you’re assigned one.” Sources say that this “can be burdensome when it puts a wrench in your day, but it does mean that people have a sense of ownership over what happens here.” One interviewee told us of another plus of the system: “It means that you meet people in different contexts and a lot of informal mentoring is built up that way.”
Outside of office hours “people are pretty busy so don’t spend a ton of time socializing.” Nevertheless, “there are lunches and occasional happy hours. You can choose your level of involvement.” One source summed up: “People here are extremely friendly and I have great relationships with the people I work with. It’s not competitive at all, which is probably because there are so many wonderful opportunities to go around.”
Hours & Compensation
There’s no target or requirement when it comes to hours, and sources told us they typically bill between 1,900 and 2,100 hours per year. “Because the firm is so busy most people are billing plenty of hours, but there’s no pressure to do more than 1,900 or 2,000,” one source said. Munger met the recent $190,000 salary hike, and juniors told us: “Bonuses are less clear because they’re calculated on an ad hoc system but I’m confident my compensation will match my contribution.”
“If you come to our offices after 6:30pm you’ll find they’re pretty much deserted,” associates revealed. “There’s a culture of people leaving around 6pm and then working from home later on.” One source told us of their approach: “I set my own schedule and can work from home any time. I suppose I come in around 9am and leave around 6pm, but there’s no one who tells me I have to do that. I can work remotely and that's never been an issue. I probably spend more time away than the office than some – that’s just a personal preference.” The same source concluded: “If anything we have talks where the firm says, ‘Consider coming into work, you might enjoy speaking with your colleagues!’”
Diversity & Inclusion
Munger, like most of its peers, is “not where it needs to be” when it comes to diversity. Associates flagged the representation of ethnic minority groups as a particular area that requires improvement, especially in Los Angeles where the office is “disproportionately white in comparison to the wider community.” On gender diversity, an associate commented: “Around a quarter of partners are women, which is a problem we all recognize and something the firm will go out of its way to work on.”
Munger recently attained Mansfield certification status, meaning it’s committed to considering a pool of candidates for management positions that is 30% female and attorneys of color. Associates drew attention to the fact that Munger hires a significant number of law clerks, explaining: “There are far fewer women and minority law clerks based on judges’ hiring decisions.” We also heard about the MTO Fellows Program, which helps around 30 college students navigate the LSAT and law school application process through an intensive training program. Associates explained: “It may not directly improve diversity at this firm but it shows we’re committed to improving diversity in the profession.”
“One of the things that drew me to Munger was its dedication to pro bono,” a junior told us. “They’ll support whatever you’re passionate about.” There’s no limit on the number of pro bono hours associates can rack up, and one interviewee revealed: “Around 25% of my work has been pro bono and it’s always been encouraged.” Another source commented: “Pro bono is viewed as an opportunity to obtain skills you wouldn’t get elsewhere.”
“They’ll support whatever you’re passionate about.”
Munger does a significant amount of pro bono for immigration organizations in California, and we also heard from associates working on habeas corpus cases, nonprofit formations and prisoner litigation. Associates are often given the lead on these cases, with one junior explaining: “My case is my case. Occasionally my supervising partner will pop in to say ‘hola’ but that’s about it.” We heard that “there’s a constant stream of emails about pro bono. If you want a case they’re always available.”
Pro bono hours
- For all attorneys: 22,558
- Average per attorney: 143.7
The first stage: recruitment on and off campus
OCI applicants interviewed: 289
Interviewees outside OCI: 13
MTO conducts OCIs at Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Chicago, Michigan, Stanford, Berkeley, UCLA, Howard, NYU, USC and the Bay Area Diversity Career Fair. Hiring partner Dan Levin tells us: “We also regularly hire students from schools where we request resumes but do not interview on campus.” He adds: “In addition to our usual hiring for our summer program, we are also hiring a small number of third year students who will begin clerkships in the fall.” As we’ve already mentioned, Munger associates have often undertaken clerkships, and Levin explains: “For our post-clerkship hiring, recruits usually have graduated from top 25 law schools. But we have often hired students out of federal clerkships who graduated at or near the top of their class from other law schools.”
As well as academic excellence, Munger looks for candidates who bring “leadership, intellectual curiosity and a sense of individuality to an already extremely talented and diverse group of lawyers.” Levin adds that the firm is looking for commitment: “We only hire lawyers we believe have the potential to ultimately join our (one-tier) partnership.” Associates involved in recruiting told us: “We’re looking for people who can exhibit leadership, initiative and resilience. We want people who have demonstrated that they can be the best in a way that goes beyond their GPA.”
Top tips for this stage:
"We are looking for students genuinely interested in practicing law with us. Don’t try to show off during the interview. We have your resume and will see your transcript; the interviews are a chance for students to convey their interest working with us to help solve clients' toughest problems." – Hiring partner Dan Levin.
Applicants invited to second stage interview: 54
Callbacks for summer associate candidates consist of “five thirty-minute interviews and a lunch,” and Levin explains that the firm uses “a competency-based interviewing method – also known as behavioral interviewing. This process allows the candidate to showcase their experience and gives our interviewers a more thorough understanding of the knowledge, skills and abilities you could bring to our firm.”
Top tips for this stage:
"In order to prepare for the interview we recommend that you think through professional or school-related circumstances in which you faced conflict, displayed leadership, and/or had to work with others to achieve a common goal. Our interviewers will ask you for specific examples, so be prepared to share the situation, the actions you took, the outcome and what you learned for the situation." – Hiring partner Dan Levin.
Those who are lucky enough to snag a spot on Munger’s summer program will be given “a realistic idea of what it is like to practice law at our firm,” Levin explains. He adds: “You will work closely with attorneys in various practice areas doing meaningful assignments. Your summer will include invitations to attend our weekly lunches, training programs, social events and practice group meetings.” On top of this, summers are assigned a work coordinator and a social advisor; the former "will find assignments that are of interest to you and provide guidance and feedback during the summer," says Levin.
"Most of our summer associates return as junior associates. Associates make the choice at to what practice area they want to focus on, whether defined as litigation v. corporate or something more specific (i.e. data privacy)."– Hiring partner Dan Levin.
Interview with Malcolm Heinicke, co-managing partner at Munger, Tolles & Olson
Chambers Associate: How would you describe the firm’s current market position?
Malcolm Heinicke: The firm is strong. We continue to attract the best work from our most important clients. A particular barometer of our strength is how we continue to attract the best young lawyers in the world; and this year has been no exception. We have also been successful in integrating our DC office.
We have also seen real success on multiple significant trials. We had a major antitrust win in Virginia for a company called Steves & Sons, as well as the pipeline litigation in Santa Barbara in which we successfully defended Plains Oil against charges. We won a case in New Mexico regarding whether there is a constitutional right to education. We also represented FX Networks in a defamation suit which resulted from complaints from Olivia de Havilland about how she was portrayed in ‘Feud’. We also represented Warner Bros. in an investigation relating to ‘Bachelor in Paradise,’ as well as Disney and Lucasfilm.
We are still a multi-practice firm; we do not have plans to focus on one area. One thing that has come through loud and clear, however, is that we are a go-to firm when it comes to major trials around the country.
CA: Are there any broader trends (whether political, economic, technological, sector-specific) that are currently shaping the volume or type of work conducted in your firm's practices?
MH: It may be easy to draw conclusions, but I think the reality is that our clients are recognizing the value we provide. A broader trend is that clients who use our services are becoming more sophisticated in their appreciation of both the quality and value of our work. It is about more than rates and budgets, and our leverage model and hiring standards play well for us in that respect.
CA: Can you tell us about any developments at the firm over the past year that you would like our readers to know about?
MH: The newest development internally is that Hailyn Chen and I have been named co-managing partners. We are both in our forties and are completely homegrown; we both summered here. Both of us have expressed that our main focus will be on the continued recruitment and development of the best young lawyers in the world. When we were under review for this position, we made clear that our primary focus would not be the partners, but rather on efforts to attract and develop to partnership the best young lawyers in the world. Not only was this message accepted, it was embraced.
CA: What do you hope the firm will look like in five years' time?
MH: I hope we will continue to recruit the best young lawyers, and that those lawyers will go on to become partners here. In our last partner class we had several people who made partner in just over five years. I want us to stick to that value so that the talent cycle will continue.
CA: How do you think the profession has changed since you started out practicing as a lawyer?
MH: I think clients are much more sophisticated and more interested in long-term relationships. That is something our firm is well suited to address. We relish the chance to work with a client to understand not just a single case but its overall mission, and to guide it through that strategically. With the increased strength and sophistication of internal legal departments, there is a greater value placed on the relationship, not just the single case or deal. We are creating significant relationships and exposing clients to our greatest resource, which is our young lawyers.
CA: What are the main challenges that law firms and their lawyers will have to navigate/adapt to in the future?
MH: There are several. I think one of our challenges is to make the practice of law rewarding and satisfying so that we can continue to attract the candidates we want. It takes effort, investment and attention – you can not just focus on revenue figures. You have to make sure people are enjoying their work. For lawyers the challenge is similar in that you must craft your career, plan ahead and develop relationships for the long-term.
An additional challenge facing the profession is what we can do to diversify. We are committed to promoting female lawyers and lawyers of color. As well as increasing our talent and opening up recruiting channels, it will also make the overall practice of law more satisfying and enable us to better represent our clients and the community as a whole. Our MTO fellows program takes 30 students who are about to take the LSAT, and puts them through rigorous training. We invite professionals from around California to the firm to speak with them. The aim of the program is to promote them through law school and help them achieve a law degree that might not have been available to them otherwise. Within the firm we have several other initiatives aimed at advancing diversity.
CA: How would you describe the ideal candidate for Munger?
MH: We are, of course, looking for academic excellence. We also think clerkships are very valuable, and the majority of lawyers at the firm have clerked in the past. It is not just about academic credentials, however. We are looking for self-starters who can guide their own career, make themselves stand out as a lawyer and capitalize on the tremendous opportunities we pride ourselves on providing for young lawyers. In our jobs we lead teams and client efforts, but we also work collaboratively, so we need someone who has demonstrated both leadership and team-playing skills. That may sound cliché, but in the finer context of MTO, we give young lawyers responsibility right off the bat, dealing with courts and clients in their first year. We think that is rare if not unique among law firms. We are looking for someone with the passion and desire to roll up their sleeves and find out how rewarding it is to practice law at this level.
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?
MH: Figure out what you love and do it with people you love – that really is it. There are many ways to practice law even within a firm, so I would say find out what you really enjoy and pursue it passionately. Do not be afraid to work hard to get there and build relationships along the way. That is critical to objective success and to long-term happiness and satisfaction.
Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP
350 South Grand Avenue,
- Offices: Los Angeles, CA; San Francisco, CA; Washington, DC
- Number of domestic offices: 3
- Partners (US): 92
- Associates (US): 103
- Main recruitment contact: Kevinn Villard, email@example.com
- Hiring partners: Daniel Levin and Fred Rowley
- Recruitment details
- Entry-level associates starting in 2019: 22-25
- Clerking policy: Yes
- Summers joining/anticipated 2019: 1Ls: 3, 2Ls: 16, 3Ls: 7
- Summers joining/anticipated 2019 split by office: Los Angeles: 23, San Francisco: 3 (1L Summer Program)
- Summer salary 2019:
- 1Ls: $3,654/week
- 2Ls: $3,654/week
- Split summers offered? Yes
Main areas of work
Recruitment outside OCIs:
Job Fairs: Bay Area Diversity Career Fair and Penn LA Regional Interview Program
Resume Collections: Duke, Georgetown, Loyola (LA), Northwestern, Texas, UC Irvine, and UVA
Summer associate profile:
We want to hire problem solvers. We look for law students who have demonstrated excellence and leadership in their prior pursuits and who bring both leadership, intellectual curiosity, and a sense of individuality to an already extremely talented and diverse group of lawyers. Unlike other law firms, where it has become common to expect that young lawyers will stay only a short time before moving on to other endeavours, we only hire lawyers we believe have the potential to ultimately join our (one-tier) partnership.
Summer program components:
Our summer program will provide you a realistic idea of what it is like to practice law at our firm. You will work closely with attorneys in various practice areas, doing meaningful assignments. Each summer associate is assigned a work coordinator and social advisor. Your work coordinator will find assignments that are of interest to you and provide guidance and feedback during the summer. Your summer will include invitations to attend our weekly lunches, training programs, social events and practice group meetings.
This Firm's Rankings in
USA Guide, 2019
- Antitrust (Band 2)
- Bankruptcy/Restructuring Recognised Practitioner
- Energy: State Regulatory & Litigation (Band 2)
- Labor & Employment (Band 3)
- Litigation: Appellate (Band 2)
- Litigation: General Commercial (Band 1)
- Litigation: Securities (Band 1)
- Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations (Band 1)
- Media & Entertainment: Litigation (Band 1)
- Corporate/M&A (Band 3)
- Real Estate (Band 4)
- Tax (Band 3)
USA - Nationwide
- Appellate Law (Band 3)
- Securities: Litigation (Band 4)