Satisfy your litigation hunger at Munger, a California firm with a taste for hiring federal law clerks.
It might seem too good to be true: first of all, Munger shines as a leading litigious firm with a national Chambers USA ranking for appellate law and top spots in its native California for commercial, securities, white-collar and media and entertainment litigation (The American Lawyer described the firm as home to “an army of trial lawyers capable of waging war”). Then you’ve got a famous near 1:1 associate-to-partner ratio, guaranteeing substantive work from the off to juniors and making partnership a very real prospect down the line. The catch? This firm only hires the best: our list of junior associates featured scores of alumni from Ivy League schools and about half had entered Munger from a clerkship, while 100% of the people we spoke to had clerked at some point. “Munger sells itself as a place with substantive work, which justifies their high standards, and I have been more than satisfied,” one such interviewee explained.
Around two-thirds of newbies join the Los Angeles head office, with DC and San Francisco more or less splitting the difference on the rest. Besides the smaller corporate department (with around 40 LA juniors), most focus on litigation. A practice as mighty as Munger’s draws big clients and can mean getting your hands dirty: names on the roster include oil pipeline operators and enough carbon-producing companies to give the firm an F in the 2020 Law Firm Climate Change Scorecard. Munger’s commitment to pro bono is however legendary, with unlimited hours available to associates and recent headline cases including defenses of the Affordable Care Act.
During the summer program, designated work coordinators help to find assignments for summers that match their interests. Before associates join, the firm makes an effort to find out which practice areas they're interested in, but we heard that “people have transitioned between practice groups” after starting full-time (though this isn't typical). Sources noted that “though there is a clean line between corporate and litigation, there aren’t real specialized groups within those. My first matter choices were based on my interests.” Munger’s free-market system eases juniors in with a “first-year staffing committee to help us get work, and to provide cover when you can’t take on more.” To help prevent implicit bias, the firm’s diversity coordinator also has a role in staffing.
“People have transitioned between practice groups. There’s plenty of flexibility.”
Litigation is the big story at Munger, and the firm’s powerhouse practice spans commercial litigation, tech, antitrust, entertainment, tax and appellate work. Cross-office staffing is common on different types of cases, but each office has its own signature specialism: “The DC office definitely has the biggest appellate practice, while San Francisco has more of a tech focus.” As for Los Angeles, “it’s the mothership and has a bit of everything; but there’s definitely more entertainment work than in other offices.”
“Not having to do lots of document review” leaves more time for legal research and drafting “substantive” motions – one source had “written the entirety of an amicus brief.” Our interviewees also tucked into “a ton of brief writing – everything from motions to dismiss to appellate briefs… I’ve also done a ridiculous number of witness interviews.” Others took depositions and some even “argued in court during pro bono cases.” When doc review did rear its ugly head, “it wasn’t just putting documents in a binder for someone else: I’m going to be using them in my own witness interviews. Partners pitch in on document review too.” Summing it all up for us, a junior concluded: “There’s nothing I expected to do that I haven’t ended up doing.”
Litigation clients: Disney, Intel, Johnson & Johnson. Acted for entertainment industry giants in a California court case, determining that the unauthorized resale of digital movie redemption codes represents copyright infringement.
It would be a mistake to overlook Munger’s corporate practice, which may be small by headcount but advises on deals worth hundreds of millions or even billions of dollars. The firm is rated by Chambers USA within the LA corporate market, acknowledging expertise in financing transactions and corporate governance issues. Both borrowers and non-bank lenders can be found on the roster; Munger also prides itself on representing many billionaire individuals. Associates were pleased to see everyone get stuck into deals: “The partners really do the work here, they’re not just bringing in business.” Due diligence and ancillary documents are mainstays in the early years of practice, but more advanced drafting opportunities are on offer too.
Corporate clients: Berkshire Hathaway, Edison, Credit Karma founder Kenneth Lin. Advised Berkshire Hathaway on its $10 billion investment in Occidental Petroleum as part of the latter’s acquisition of global oil and gas exploration and production company Anadarko.
Hours & Culture
Billable hours: no requirement
Otherwise keen to big their firm up, one associate noted: “The only thing I think people need to be aware of is Munger attorneys work pretty hard.” They weren’t exaggerating, and some of our sources were clocking around 2,300 hours a year; according to our survey, the average was over 50 hours per week with nine vacation days a year. Though Munger doesn’t have a formal hours target, some suggested “there’s subliminal pressure to work as hard as the partners, who are working quite hard. You’re expected to contribute meaningfully, even when you don’t know what you’re doing.” Laterals had a fairly rosy take on things, arguing that expectations aren’t any worse than the BigLaw norm. “This is a much kinder firm than my previous,” one told us. “Whereas I did all-nighters fairly regularly there, they try to avoid that at Munger. They recognize you can’t work 24/7 and still have a good relationship with your family.”
Helping to ensure there’s no awkwardness over the family dinner table, the firm offers “flexibility on hours.” A parent among our sources noted that if they were doing cross-office work from home, “folks are understanding that I’m out of contact when I’m doing dinner and bedtime for my kids. I’ll work some weekends to make up for it and teams have had no issue with that at all.” Party nuts, on the other hand, might want to look elsewhere. Los Angeles and San Francisco juniors told us “there’s less of a social environment than at other firms; we have fun occasionally but people aren’t regularly going out for drinks.” That’s not because lawyers don’t get on: “Everyone is really nice,” insiders agreed. “People are kind and have my back.” Juniors in the smaller DC office reckoned theirs is more “familial. We have lunch together every day and I feel plugged into everyone’s life.”
“… this firm is just a bunch of quiet nerds, and I’m into that.”
To get an idea of the typical Munger personality, go back to its hiring: clerks and top law school graduates. “I remember leaving my interview and remarking to my partner that this firm is just a bunch of quiet nerds, and I’m into that,” a source recalled with a smile. A smaller headcount also means less need for a constant strict hierarchy, and while of course “the distinction between partners and associates matters in some sense, when it comes to day-to-day work it’s much more egalitarian,” we heard. “I have been shocked to see partners take on certain tasks. It makes me respect them more.” Associates of all stripes also have “access to the firm’s financial info” and even get a say in hiring at the entry and lateral levels.
Diversity & Inclusion
The majority felt that “the firm cares desperately about diversity but has, like others, struggled with it,” and suggested the top brass “are aware of their faults and are willing to work on them.” Case in point, the firm has made implicit bas training a requirement “for partners, before hiring and before associate reviews.” Recruitment has been a particular focus of late. “Everyone engages in a firmwide discussion about hiring decisions,” during which “a lot of consideration is given to potential bias. The culture is to be mindful of it and recruit more diverse candidates.”
“Everyone from the name partner Ron Olson, to the person who started a week before me, is happy to chat.”
First-years receive “a junior mentor and a partner mentor,” but we heard “there’s no shortage of willing informal mentors. Everyone from the name partner Ron Olson, to the person who started a week before me, is happy to chat.” Litigators receive "ongoing training" including sessions with NITA (National Institute of Trial Advocacy) and other public speaking training. Sources in other departments reported that “partners have been deeply engaged” in their career progression. The 1:1 associate-to-partner ratio doesn't just mean juniors got their hands on substantial tasks; it also means "it's a pretty flat structure, which is great" from a career development perspective. In our survey, associates put partnership achievability at 63 out of 100.
Munger’s unlimited pro bono policy bears out in practice: associates said “some people do a ridiculous amount of pro bono and no one gives them a hard time.” The firm can accommodate “any kind of pro bono you want to do, so long as it’s not something in direct conflict with a client,” although sources highlighted that Munger “engages with critical issues, even if some clients don’t agree.” The firm “was involved in the same-sex marriages campaign in California, for example, when it wasn’t a popular cause to fight.” Our sources dedicated their time to prisoner rights, wrongful conviction, immigration and COVID-19 related cases.
Pro bono hours
- For all attorneys: 38,481
- Average per attorney: 195.9
Strategy & Future
Co-managing partner Hailyn Chen doesn't envisage a revolution at Munger any time soon: "Unlike many of our competitors, we have taken a conservative approach to growth in terms of our geographic footprint. We’ve been based in LA and San Francisco but representing clients nationwide – we only opened our DC office when the former DC Solicitor General joined us." The COVID-19 pandemic has only reinforced how little geography needs to matter in legal practice today. "Previously you had every business flying around in planes all the time; now you can just press a button and speak face to face," Chen points out. For more from Chen, go to the Bonus Features tab.
The first stage: recruitment on and off campus
OCI applicants interviewed: 251
Interviewees outside OCI: 13
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 regularly hire students from schools where we request resumes but do not interview on campus, including Northwestern, Georgetown, Duke, University of Texas, University of Virginia, and UC Irvine, among others.” He adds: “In addition to our usual hiring for our summer program, we on occasion hire a small number of third-year students, who will begin clerkships in the fall.” As mentioned, 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 on occasion hire students out of federal clerkships who graduated at or near the top of their class 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, 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.” 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
Applicants invited to second stage interview: 40
Callbacks for summer associate candidates consist of “a series of 30-minute interviews with lawyers of varying seniority, as well as (at least prior to the pandemic) lunch.” Weiss explains that 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.
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,” Weiss explains. He adds: “You will work closely with attorneys in practice areas that interest you doing meaningful assignments. Your summer will include invitations to attend weekly lunches (now, of course, virtual), training programs, practice group meetings, and various 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.”
"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 versus 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: Could you describe the firm’s market position in three sentences or less? Which firms would you identify as your biggest competition?
Hailyn Chen: We compete with the AmLaw 50 firms in terms of the complexity and size of the issues we deal with. Our firm has a large number of lawyers who have clerked for federal judges; the toughest legal thinking and strategy is what we handle.
CA: What is the greatest challenge facing the firm in the next decade? How about the legal market more generally?
HC: One challenge that firms across the industry are facing is the transition to the next generation of rain makers. We’re facing the retirement of the baby boomers and folks who are instrumental to the firm, and so we have put succession and transition plans in place.
Another challenge is going to be reimagining what the firm looks like post-pandemic and what this means for our workforce. How many will remain working remotely, and on what basis?
CA: Are there other developments in the firm’s immediate future you think our readers should be aware about?
HC: I don’t know that there are any huge developments. Unlike many of our competitors, we have taken a conservative approach to growth in terms of our geographic footprint. We’ve been based in LA and San Francisco but representing clients nationwide – we only opened our DC office when the former DC Solicitor General joined us. We like homegrown lawyers and we want to continue focusing on that talent.
CA: How has the firm weathered Covid-19 and has it affected the firm’s long-term strategy?
HC: We have done really well. We were able to get our whole workforce home quickly and efficiently; we’ve been generating business, getting bills out in time, and trying to figure out ways to stay connected. We had a fully remote summer associate program and that was a resounding success, so we’re now looking at the lessons we learned from that to move forward.
CA: So what opportunities has the pandemic provided?
HC: It helped us think about client engagement in different ways. Previously you had every business flying around in planes all the time; now you can just press a button and speak face to face. It has helped us think about all of our roles and responsibilities, and ways of doing things. Lawyers are incredibly analogue in many ways and so many attorneys still literally handwrite their time entries. Now we’re doing things fully remotely and it works really well.
CA: What cultural changes have come about as a result of Covid-19?
HC: We very much value retention and development and we’ve talked endlessly about returning to work and collaborate in-person. When you’re working remotely, casual interactions don’t just happen, everything is much more intentional online. When you’re in the office you’ll run into someone in the line to get coffee, and you learn about opportunities that way. Many of us who advanced through the firm had occasions when opportunities came up by having a random conversation and that what’s missing: those serendipitous conversations.
Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP
350 South Grand Avenue,
- Offices: Los Angeles, CA; San Francisco, CA; Washington, DC
- Number of domestic offices: 3
- Partners (US): 93
- Of Counsel (US): 10
- Associates (US): 98
- Main recruitment contact: Kevinn Villard, firstname.lastname@example.org
- Hiring partners: Robyn Bacon, Margaret Maraschino, and Adam Weiss
- Recruitment details
- Entry-level associates starting in 2021: 30-35
- Clerking policy: Yes
- Summers joining/anticipated 2021: 1Ls: 4, 2Ls: 13
- Summers joining/anticipated 2021 split by office: Los Angeles: 15 (includes 2 1Ls), San Francisco: 2(1L Summer Program)
- Summer salary 2021:
- 1Ls: $3,894/week
- 2Ls: $3,894/week
- Split summers offered? Yes
Main areas of work
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 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 twice-weekly lunches, training programs, social events, and practice group meetings.
This Firm's Rankings in
USA Guide, 2021
- Antitrust (Band 2)
- Bankruptcy/Restructuring (Band 4)
- Energy: State Regulatory & Litigation (Band 2)
- Labor & Employment (Band 3)
- Litigation: Appellate (Band 2)
- Litigation: General Commercial: The Elite (Band 1)
- Litigation: Securities (Band 1)
- Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations (Band 1)
- Media & Entertainment: Litigation (Band 1)
California: Los Angeles & Surrounds
- Corporate/M&A: The Elite (Band 4)
- Real Estate (Band 3)
- Tax (Band 3)
USA - Nationwide
- Appellate Law (Band 2)
- Corporate Crime & Investigations: Highly Regarded (Band 2)
- Securities: Litigation (Band 5)
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