It was a case of California Calling for juniors at this litigation-leaning outfit where lawyers“aren’t just good at their job but love the craft of law.”
“I SAW myself as a law nerd,” one Munger junior jokingly reflected, “and I wanted to be around other people like that – people who had a passion for law.” Sources at Munger continually referenced the firm’s “intellectually heavy and curious” culture, and indeed, the firm has a long-standing reputation for hiring from some of the most prestigious institutions in the US; its ranks are filled with more former federal law clerks than you could shake a judge’s gavel at.
Many of these impressive individuals flocked to the firm because they’d “gotten the sense that associates would be able to do interesting work and get good experience” – something juniors have since found to be true: “It’s a small(ish) firm with a lot of really big matters, which means all attorneys have pretty major responsibilities.” Of course, many cited the firm’s well-known one-to-one partner to associate ratio and added that “the firm spends a great deal of energy enabling its attorneys to rise to the occasion” (but more on that later).
Aspiring litigators were particularly drawn to the firm’s reputation – Chambers USA awards the firm top-tier rankings in California for general commercial, securities and white-collar litigation. Elsewhere, the firm also receives kudos for appellate litigation (fun fact: three out of five of Obama’s appointments to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit were Munger alumni), energy litigation, antitrust, corporate M&A, labor & employment and tax. Corporate folk, although fewer in numbers, were also attracted to the firm’s offering: “It’s like being at a smaller corporate boutique, but with significant-sized clients and deals – it’s unique!”
Juniors were split between the firm’s three domestic offices – the largest portion were LA-based, followed by a group in San Francisco and a small handful based in DC. The vast majority of juniors join the firm’s litigation ranks. A handful join the firm’s smaller corporate, real estate or bankruptcy teams. In the beginning, newbies gain work through a work coordinator who “helps you get assignments across the firm, and also gives you a buffer so you don’t overbook yourself – it can be hard to know how much is too much at first.”After first year, many found work more organically. Across both litigation and transactional work, juniors appreciated being able to “maintain a generalist practice.”
Litigators had got stuck into “matters that span the whole spectrum – both in terms of the type of matter and the subject matter!” Juniors listed appellate, employment, business, and trade secret disputes as just a few examples. The DC office was said to be particularly strong for appellate work, while San Francisco juniors noted “a higher amount of tech work due to the proximity to tech clients in the Bay Area.” Regardless, sources found that “no matter what you’re on, there’s something interesting and fascinating about every case!” Sources had been to both district and federal courts, and some had even been able to argue motions themselves – “our firm takes making arguments extremely seriously, so we had the full range of training for that.” Other tasks included “conducting legal research, writing memos and briefs, andtaking and defending depositions.” One source was pleased to report that they’d “been able to work with partners on revisions of briefs and talk to them about where I could improve.” At times it sounded pretty sink-or-swim to us, but associates assured us that “there’s enough support as well. They are careful about making sure the associate is prepared to do the task before doing it.”
Litigation clients: Airbnb, Costco and Intel. Successfully defended Plains All American Pipeline against a claim of knowing misconduct after one of its pipelines leaked crude oil near Refugio State Beach in Santa Barbara County.
Corporate folks practice solely out of the Los Angeles office and maintain a similarly generalist practice: interviewees had dabbled in capital markets, venture capital work, mid-market M&A, and fund formation work among other areas. “We also have a unique practice based around high net worth individuals and helping with entrepreneurial projects,” juniors added. With transactional work comes the classic tasks like due diligence and ancillary documents, but sources found these tasks to be “few and far between.” Juniors’ time was usually spent on more substantive tasks like “the first draft of a sale and purchase agreement for a significant-sized deal.” Another added that “it’s not long before clients are calling you directly, which leads to positive relationships with clients early on.” Corporate interviewees explained that “we don’t get a lot of cookie-cutter deals. We can almost never take something off the shelf and repurpose it. It means you’ve really got to push yourself.”
Corporate clients: Los Angeles Daily Journal, Oaktree Capital and Nexus Capital Management. Recently advised Berkshire Hathaway on a $10 billion investment in Occidental Petroleum to support Occidental’s bid to acquire Anadarko.
Associates spoke of a good reason to be positive about their career progression: “There’s a one-to-one partner-associate ratio, which means if you are hired, you are hired with the idea that you might become partner.” Juniors noticed that “there’s definitely many home-grown partners; the firm prides itself on elevating associates to the partnership over hiring laterals.” With this is mind, sources pointed out that “partners are very eager to give young associates work opportunities.” For example, one junior mentioned that they “hadn’t taken a deposition by the end of first year, so I asked if there were any opportunities. The partner then made it his number-one priority to ensure that was my next task!”
"...partners are very eager to give young associates work opportunities.”
Interviewees did admit that there was “not so much formalized training” as such, but more of a “pick up skills as you go”approach. Beyond being encouraged to attend trainings with NITA (National Institute of Trial Advocacy), juniors reckoned “for things like writing responses, you just have to do it, see the red lines, then develop and learn as you go.” Most were more than happy with this system, though sources reflected that “if you’re not comfortable speaking up and seeking out opportunities, you could get lost.”
“Pro bono is a substantial part of what we do here,” juniors emphasized. “I’ve never had anyone tell me I work on pro bono too much, and I do hundreds of hours a year.”Indeed, no distinction is made between client billable hours and pro bono. Juniors told of working on immigration, death row and Affordable Care Act matters among other opportunities. In DC, juniors spent time working with the National Immigration Justice Center, while in San Francisco, associates can get a fair bit of work from the Immigrant Legal Resources Center. “There’s an overflowing amount of great pro bono work here,”arepresentativejunior gushed, “and a support system that encourages us to do it, which was important to me.”
Pro bono hours:
- For all attorneys: 38,027
- Average per attorney: 184.6
Associates felt Munger’s ‘long-term view’ was important to understanding the culture. “We want to recruit people we want to work with, and train them to be great lawyers and part of the firm,” one source explained. This approach, another highlighted, means that “the people you work with are very smart and excellent lawyers, but they’re also just friendly people.” As a result, many reckoned that Munger had been able “to cultivate a family culture.” Of course, beyond the firm, attorneys have their own actual families and sources felt encouraged to spend time with them: “I had a partner tell me that the order of priorities in your life should be first, your own life and family; second, sleep; and third, work – and that it should be in that order.” Naturally, the firm “wants you to work hard, but doesn’t want you to go over your limit.”
“...people think creatively and flexibly about problems that others haven’t encountered before.”
Another factor that interviewees felt influenced the culture was the firm’s hiring habits: “We’re a place with loads of former law clerks,” which, according to interviewees, creates an environment where “people think creatively and flexibly about problems that others haven’t encountered before.” With fine minds comes the “expectation that you are being proactive about your own career and defining your own path here,” but that doesn’t mean that there are sharp elbows at Munger: “I really love the people I work with,” one source declared, “it doesn’t feel like a job, it feels like a special place!”
Hours & Compensation
There’s not a formal hours requirement at Munger – “the firm takes a more holistic view of associates for bonuses” – though most interviewees reported aiming for between 1,900 and 2,000. As a result, juniors’ day-to-day hours varied substantially. Some aimed to get into the office for 8am, while others didn’t arrive until 10am. Most would then leave by around 5:30pm, with one LA source reckoning that “the place clears out by about 6pm.” That may sound like a short day for BigLaw, but each interviewee added that they usually did additional work from home in the evenings. “Flexibility is something the firm is supportive of. I can make time to work out and have dinner with my wife, then sign back on.” To maintain this kind of schedule, some found “you compensate by working a couple of hours at the weekend.”On the whole, sources appreciated that “the work-from-home culture is pretty normal at this point.”
Diversity & Inclusion
“Relatively speaking, I think Munger does better than many firms – that’s not to say it’s at appropriate levels of representation, but it’s something that is discussed a lot at the firm,” one interviewee summed up. Another expressed that “we care deeply about making sure this place is one that is open to all, and one where people are respectful and tolerant. We also get the best work product by fostering that inclusive community.” The firm has initiatives for women, LGBT+ individuals and attorneys of color. It also offers 2L scholarships at the value of $20,000. In the fall of 2019, Munger was awarded Mansfield Certification Plus status for the second iteration of Diversity Lab’s program, meaning the firm met targets for the consideration of diverse individuals for senior roles. Munger subsequently entered Diversity Lab’s Mansfield Rule 3.0 program.
Strategy & Future
"The firm has been very successful in the model it currently has and plans to continue that," juniors reckoned going forward. We caught up with co-managing partner Hailyn Chen to learn more; head to the Bonus Features tab for the full interview.
The first stage: recruitment on and off campus
OCI applicants interviewed: 307
Interviewees outside OCI: 12
MTO conducts OCIs at Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Chicago, Michigan, Stanford, Berkeley, UCLA, Loyola, Howard, NYU, USC and the Bay Area Diversity Career Fair. 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, Penn, University of Texas, and UC Irvine.” He adds: “In addition to our usual hiring for our summer program, we often 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 usually have graduated from law schools at which we also recruit for our summer program. 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.” 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: 61
Callbacks for summer associate candidates consist of “five thirty-minute interviews with lawyers of varying seniority, as well as 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 various practice areas doing meaningful assignments. Your summer will include invitations to attend weekly lunches, 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.
"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
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): 11
- Associates (US): 99
- Main recruitment contact: Kevinn Villard, firstname.lastname@example.org
- Hiring partners:Adam Weiss
- Recruitment details
- Entry-level associates starting in 2020: 25-30
- Clerking policy: Yes
- Summers joining/anticipated 2020: 1Ls: 7, 2Ls: 23; 3Ls: 1
- Summers joining/anticipated 2020 split by office: Los Angeles: 27, San Francisco: 4(1L Summer Program)
- Summer salary 2020:
- 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, 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 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, 2020
- Antitrust (Band 2)
- Bankruptcy/Restructuring (Band 4)
- 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)
California: Los Angeles & Surrounds
- Corporate/M&A (Band 3)
- Real Estate (Band 4)
- Tax (Band 3)
USA - Nationwide
- Appellate Law (Band 3)
- Securities: Litigation (Band 4)
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