Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP - The Inside View

“There’s no limit on pro bono” at this litigation powerhouse.

For those looking for an outfit that combines an elite litigation team, leading pro bono program, and progressive culture, Munger, Tolles & Olson isn’t just a firm, it’s an aspiration. “As a first-year student, Munger always felt slightly out of reach,” one interviewee recalled, making clear that the “the recruiting standards are extremely high.” Indeed, the firm’s associate roster is a melting pot of Ivy League backgrounds, and by the reckoning of one source, “the firm is only looking for people in the top 5% of their class.” Nearly half of the associates on our list had also completed a clerkship.

Those who do make the cut can expect to tackle some of the industry’s most high-profile cases. For example, name partner Ron Olson was recently hired by Bill Gates to handle his divorce from Melinda Gates. By the standards of Chambers USA, Munger’s general commercial, securities, white-collar crime & government investigations, and media & entertainment litigation teams are all considered top-notch. If litigation isn’t your thing, there is transactional work too, though only three junior associates on our list were in corporate, with one solo lawyer in real estate.

“There’s a one-to-one partner to associate ratio, which means there are opportunities to have a bigger role early on.”

LA is the firm’s biggest office, with 19 of the juniors on our list calling it home, with DC and San Fran neatly splitting the rest. Nearly all our interviewees mentioned “the firm’s smaller size and its low-leverage model” as another key attraction.One junior explained: “There’s a one-to-one partner to associate ratio, which meansthere are opportunities to have a bigger role early on.”

The Work



Around a quarter of associates join the firm through the summer program. At the end of the program, associates choose whether to join the firm’s litigation or transactional arm. If you decide on the latter, it’s either corporate or real estate, while in litigation associates remain generalists. Once at the firm, “you’re assigned a first-year work coordinator who helps you with your first assignments,” sources explained, after which it becomes a free market. Juniors advised that while “you can’t turn down everything, if there’s something you don’t want to do, you should say so.” But if you’re breaking into a cold sweat at the thought of having to cold-call partners, don’t fret: “Most are comfortable turning down cases, particularly when we’re super busy and stretched pretty thin.”

While MTO’s litigation work draws the most attention, it would be remiss not to mention its corporate M&A team. Chambers USA designates the firm with prestigious ‘elite’ status in LA, which is no surprise when you look at the team’s deal values – think hundreds of millions, and billion-dollar deals. The team represents clients like Intel and the terrifying-sounding luxury streetwear fashion house, Fear of God. “There’s a great variety of work,” one source said, adding that “sometimes it even feels like there’s too much for the size of the group at the moment.”

Corporate M&A clients: Berkshire Hathaway; Credit Karma Founder; Pacific Gas & Electric; Nexus Capital Management. Advised Intel on its sale of its flash memory and solid-state drive and wafer businesses to South Korean SK Hynix for $9 billion.

But let’s talk about MTO’s powerhouse practice: litigation. The group tackles the full range of litigious matters and one source confirmed that “because the firm has a generalist approach, I’ve done tons of different things.” Indeed, our interviewees mentioned working on everything from “large class actions, criminal corporate cases, and criminal matters that involve individuals to cases involving educational institutions being sued, as well as regulatory issues.” In addition, associates can also work on white-collar crime and government investigations, media & entertainment, and patent litigation matters - among others. Cases often receive significant media attention. For example, in one prominent matter, the firm defended Netflix in a case against a family who claimed that the streaming service, which hosts the series 13 Reasons Why, was responsible for their daughter’s death by suicide.

“I’ve drafted witness outlines, motions, and complaints, as well as run the interview process itself.”

Sources boasted of substantive responsibility from the get-go. “I can’t imagine you’d get this kind of responsibility anywhere else,” one junior reflected.Another told us: “I’ve drafted witness outlines, motions, and complaints, as well as run the interview process itself.” What about doc review? “There is some doc review,” juniors admitted, “but we tend to not do too much of that because the firm has contract attorneys who do it.”

General commercial litigation: McDonald’s; Estate of Kobe Bryant; Wells Fargo; Bill Gates; and the Bank of America. Represented MGM Resorts in reaching an $800 million settlement with over 4,000 claimants arising from a mass shooting that took place in Las Vegas in 2017.

Hours & Pro Bono



Billable hours: no requirement

In our latest survey, Mungerites averaged around 60 hours a week. While there is no billable target, most of the sources we spoke to were on track to hit over 2,100 hours. One source admitted: “There are matters that would benefit from having a few more people,” and another told us: “There’s just not enough time in the day to do what I want to do!”

“There’s really no limit on pro bono hours…”

The hours may be long, but for many of our interviewees, it was a worthwhile trade-off for the market-rate salary and the chance to dedicate many of those hours to meaningful causes. Indeed, the firm did more pro bono hours per attorney last year than any other firm we survey, with an average of nearly 200 hours per attorney. The hours are “treated the same as billables,” we heard, and there are “a lot of different opportunities.” For example, co-managing partner Hailyn Chen tells us: “We partnered with the ACLU in terms of prison safety during the pandemic.” Juniors reiterated that “there’s really no limit on pro bono hours. One associate told me that one year he spent 900 hours on a pro bono immigration case, and no-one batted an eye.”

While there’s no billable targets, “there is an individual bonus assessment process,” sources explained, adding that “if you’re billing at the suggested level of 1,900 or more, you’ll receive market or better.” Many of our sources, did, however, feel the process could use with some more transparency.

Pro bono hours

  • For all (US) attorneys: 24,789
  • Average per (US) attorney: 129

Diversity, Equity & Inclusion



“I’m less afraid of the glass ceiling here than I might be at other firms.”

While Munger’s diversity stats aren’t quite as sparkling as its pro bono rankings, they still remain solidly above the market average. For example, the firm is in the top half of our rankings for female partners, and we heard some encouraging comments from female sources: “Our last partnership class was half female;I’m less afraid of the glass ceiling here than I might be at other firms.” Its representation of ethnic minorities at partnership level is even more encouraging, where the firm places in the top ten of all firms surveyed in our guide.

Culture



Underpinning the working culture is an “emphasis on ownership,” sources explained. “Whether it’s small pieces of a big case, or a smaller matter, we’re encouraged to make it our own.” And ownership doesn’t mean bearing the brunt of getting it wrong, it means belonging. “We get financials for the firm, hours reports… everything from the management committee.” We were told that lawyers of every level can also tune in for all management meetings. And while junior associates “don’t have a vote, there are associate reps,” one insider highlighted, adding that “there’s definitely a desire to have even the most junior associate feel like they’re part of the firm.”

"Partners came to ask: ‘How can we help?’"

Our interviewees’ anecdotes were reflected in our survey results where over three quarters of respondents viewed the firm as non-hierarchical - significantly above the market average. Perception was borne out by practice. By far our favorite story involved “a team that had a massive filing recently, and were massively underwater,” a junior reminisced. “Partners came to ask: ‘How can we help?’ They were told by a junior associate, ‘I just need PDFs,’ and they got straight into the trenches making PDFs.”

In another example of the firm’s flat hierarchy in action, one insider relayed a story of a junior persuading a partner not to take on “a politically controversial client. Everyone was encouraged to voice their opinions for or against and ultimately, the partner turned down a case because of a junior’s argument. It speaks to the democratic values of the firm.”

Career Development



For one source, “the firm’s democratic culture, size, and our low-leverage model” cemented a desire to stay with the firm for the foreseeable future. Certainly, Munger associates felt more confident of making partner, with nearly two thirds of surveyed associates indicating partnership was possible (the average across surveyed firms was below 45%). We also heard that “partners go to bat for you.” How? “Depositions are hard to get staffed on for junior associates because no client really wants you to be their first.” Sure. “But onepartner lowered an associate’s rate to make it more attractive to the client so they could get that experience.” The firm also has a “a one-tier partnership. When you make partner, you’re an equity partner, and there’s no equity buy-in.” In addition, we were told that all-firm, biweekly lunches provide “opportunities to talk about skills, development, and key cases people are working on.”

Strategy & Future



Moving forward, Hailyn Chen tells us that the firm will continue to do a mix of “top companies’ toughest cases” and “ongoing work with companies like Disney or Intel.” Chen also outlines some of the positive changes occurring on the cultural front. “Parents get 18 weeks of fully paid leave. For the birthing parent there's an additional six to eight weeks. We used to have a primary and secondary distinction, but we scrapped that. We’ve seen a significant increase of men taking the full amount of parental leave.” She adds that “we’re doing more support for people struggling with mental health challenges and developing an overview of the challenges facing people. Back-up family care, for example, was in place before the pandemic, which was there for parents, someone taking care of an elderly parent, or a sick spouse, and so on." Nearly every single of one our survey respondents expressed high confidence in the firm’s trajectory, with one junior reflecting that “the firm will continue to focus on nurturing talent and attorney performance.”

Get Hired



The first stage: recruitment on and off campus

OCI applicants interviewed: 235

Interviewees outside OCI: 16

Historically, MTO conducts OCIs at Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Chicago, Michigan, Penn, Stanford, Berkeley, UCLA, Loyola, Howard, NYU, and USC. Hiring partner Adam Weiss tells us: “We also occasionally hire students from schools outside of those where we typically conduct OCI, including Northwestern, Georgetown, Duke, University of Texas, University of Virginia, and UC Irvine, among others.”Munger associates have often undertaken clerkships, and Weiss explains: “For our post-clerkship hiring, recruits most commonly have graduated from law schools at which we also recruit for our summer program. But we also hire students out of federal clerkships who graduated at the top of their classes from other law schools.”

In addition to 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.” Weiss adds that the firm is looking for commitment: “Unlike other law firms, 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 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, and doing it with us. Be yourself during the interview. We have your resume and will see your transcript; the interviews are a chance for you to convey your interest in working with us to help solve our clients’ toughest problems, and for us to get to know you better as a person.” – Hiring partner Adam Weiss

Callbacks

Applicants invited to second stage interview: 48

Callbacks for summer associate candidates consist of “a series of 30-minute interviews with lawyers of varying seniority, as well as (when public health conditions permit) lunch.” Weiss explains that in addition to traditional interviews, the firm uses “a competency-based interviewing method – also known as ‘behavioral interviewing.’ This process allows candidates to showcase their experience and gives our interviewers a more thorough understanding of the knowledge, skills, and abilities a candidate 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 from the situation. We also ask you to take some time to learn about us, what differentiates us, and what makes us a unique – and, we think, special – place to practice law.”  – Hiring partner Adam Weiss

Summer program

Offers: 31

Acceptances: 13

Those who are lucky enough to snag a spot in Munger’s summer program will be given “a realistic idea of what it is like to practice law at our firm, where new lawyers get early responsibility from day one,” Weiss explains. He adds: “You will work closely with attorneys on matters that interest you doing meaningful assignments. Your summer will include invitations to attend weekly lunches hosted by our lawyers and firm alumni about cutting edge areas of law, training programs, and thoughtfully curated social events.”  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 Weiss, while the latter “will help ensure that you meet and get to know a broad swath of lawyers at the firm and get a true sense of what it is like to practice law in our distinct, and uniquely collegial and collaborative culture ,where early responsibility and radical transparency are the norm.”  

And finally...

"Most of our summer associates return as junior associates. When associates join the firm full-time, they make the choice as to what practice area they want to focus on, whether that is litigation, corporate, or something more specific (i.e., a particular type of litigation)."– Hiring partner Adam Weiss

Interview with co-managing partner Hailyn Chen



Chambers Associate: How would you describe the firm’s current market position?  

We continue to hire the best and brightest associates and lawyers in the country. We continue to take on top companies’ toughest cases. We punch above our weight in terms of the size and complexity of the matters we work on.

CA: Associates described the firm as one where clients come for “bet-the-company, existential crises matters.” Will the firm want to carry on doing that type of work? Or do you anticipate shifting into doing ongoing work for existing clients?

We already do a mix. We are proud of the fact that we get hired for bet-the-firm litigation. But we’re proud of the fact that we do ongoing work with companies like Disney and Intel. They don’t only call us when there’s a crisis, they call when they want high-quality legal representation. So, for example, we’ve been doing copyright litigation for Disney.

CA: The firm was our top-ranked firm for average pro bono hours per lawyer last year, where does that commitment to pro bono come from?

Our commitment to pro bono work is a cornerstone of our firm’s values. Ron Olson, as one of the founders, has promoted a commitment pro bono practice and service to the community around us. We’ve always counted pro bono hours as billable hours. We encourage people to do it and talk about it. We continued that during the pandemic. We partnered with the ACLU in terms of prison safety during the pandemic. This litigation in DC became the blueprint for other litigation in other areas.

CA: How is the firm changing to accommodate the needs/expectations of the next generation of lawyers?

One example I’m particularly proud of: before the pandemic, I believe it was 2019, we were among the first, if not the first, to announce an expanded and totally open to everyone parental leave policy. It’s one of the most generous in the market. Parents get 18 weeks of fully paid leave. For the birthing parent, there’s an additional six to eight weeks. We used to have a primary and secondary distinction, but we scrapped that. We’ve seen a significant increase of men taking the full amount of parental leave.

We’ve also been providing more support for people working remotely. We’re doing more support for people struggling with mental health challenges and developing an overview of the challenges facing people. Back-up family care, for example, was in place before the pandemic, which was there for parents, someone taking care of an elderly parent, or a sick spouse, and so on. The firm subsidized the cost of a licensed healthcare worker commensurate with the need.

The older model that law firms operated under was basically designed for men. The default assumption was that lawyers were men and women would do all the care work. That’s such an anachronistic model.

CA: What is the greatest challenge facing the firm in the next decade? How about the legal market more generally? 

As with all law firms, the challenge will be what the post-pandemic world is going to look like. There will be some remote work, but also seeing how important in-person interactions are for maintaining the firm’s culture and for helping clients. Bouncing ideas off each other is good. Another challenge is maintaining the firm’s market position; every market is much more competitive. The market for legal talent, for example, is much tougher. In the past we were competing with other law firms for legal talent, but now we’re competing against other industries and companies, and with remote working becoming more normal, we’re also competing geographically.

CA: What is your biggest retention challenge?

What I’ve mentioned above, is one of them. One of the things I’d like to see being spoken about generally, is: ‘am I getting professional satisfaction from what I’m doing?’ People are asking that question earlier nowadays and are more prepared to make changes early on than in the past. We’re positioned well to deal with that challenge. We have this longstanding commitment to pro bono, which helps with professional satisfaction. Our low-leverage model of a one-to-one partner-to-associate ratio also positions us well to meet this challenge, because it’s different from most other firms.

CA: How has the rise in legal technology affected the firm? It is a positive or a negative?

We’re neutral about the tech. Legal tech is replacing a lot of doc and contract review. But that’s never been an emphasis of ours. We’ve always focused on strategic thinking and unique cases that no one has seen before. But if we can alleviate the need for some of our talent to look at boring docs, that’s great.

CA: Any advice for those about to enter the legal industry? 

There’s a lot of negative press about how hard a career in law is. People talk about a high level of attorney dissatisfaction, but I and my colleagues have found enormous satisfaction in finding solutions to our problems. There are all sorts of ways for being a lawyer and it can be challenging to do the work we do, especially in litigation. Courts don’t always go your way, clients are stressed out, but there are ways to find career satisfaction.

Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP

350 South Grand Avenue,
Los Angeles,
CA 90071
Website www.mto.com

  • Offices: Los Angeles, CA; San Francisco, CA; Washington, DC
  • Number of domestic offices: 3
  • Partners (US): 90
  • Of Counsel (US): 10
  • Associates (US): 94
  • Contacts 
  • Main recruitment contact: Kevinn Villard, kevinn.villard@mto.com
  • Hiring partners: Robyn Bacon, Margaret Maraschino, and Adam Weiss
  • Recruitment details 
  • Entry-level associates starting in 2022: 30-35
  • Clerking policy: Yes
  • Summers joining/anticipated 2022: 1Ls: 4, 2Ls: 17
  • Summers joining/anticipated 2022 split by office: Los Angeles: 19 (includes 2 1Ls), San Francisco: 2 (1L Summer Program)
  • Summer salary 2022: 1Ls: $ 4,135/week 2Ls: $ 4,135/week
  • Split summers offered? Yes

Main areas of work



  Attorneys from Munger, Tolles & Olson partner with clients on their most important and complex cases and business deals. We maintain a national and international practice. Our principal areas of practice include bet-the-company litigation (from the outset of the case through trial and any appeals), internal investigations, white collar defense, corporate advice, labor and employment, environmental, real estate, financial restructuring and tax.

Firm profile



  Munger Tolles has purposefully maintained a low-leverage environment and eschewed the high-leverage model adopted by many firms. We believe our one-to-one overall partner-to-associate ratio instills a work ethic that results in a cost-effective approach for our clients. In every representation, our 200 lawyers are expected to make a difference in developing and implementing strategies to obtain the best results for the client.

Recruitment



Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2022: Berkeley, Chicago, Columbia, Harvard, Howard, Loyola (LA), Michigan, NYU, Penn, Stanford, UCLA, USC, and Yale.

Recruitment outside OCIs:
Job Fairs:
Bay Area Diversity Career Fair
Resume Collections: Duke, Georgetown, 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 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 endeavors, 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 with 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 mentor. 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 twice-weekly lunches, training programs, social events, and practice group meetings.

Social media



Recruitment website: www.mto.com/careers
Linkedin: munger-tolles-&-olson

This Firm's Rankings in
USA Guide, 2022

Ranked Departments

    • Antitrust (Band 2)
    • Bankruptcy/Restructuring (Band 4)
    • Energy: State Regulatory & Litigation (Band 2)
    • Intellectual Property: Trademark, Copyright & Trade Secrets (Band 3)
    • Labor & Employment: The Elite (Band 3)
    • Litigation: Appellate (Band 2)
    • Litigation: General Commercial: The Elite (Band 1)
    • Litigation: Securities (Band 2)
    • Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations (Band 1)
    • Media & Entertainment: Litigation (Band 1)
    • Corporate/M&A: The Elite (Band 4)
    • Real Estate (Band 3)
    • Tax (Band 3)
    • Appellate Law (Band 2)
    • Corporate Crime & Investigations: Highly Regarded (Band 2)
    • Securities: Litigation (Band 5)