O’Melveny's star-studded clientele draws associates in, and its sunshine culture keeps them there.
OF all the issues making waves in 2018, the #MeToo movement must be among the most talked about, and, hopefully, consequential. From a business perspective, revelations about the behavior of powerful men have sent company boards and shareholders into a spin. To regain some semblance of control, law firms are brought in as a steadying hand, to conduct investigations. So it is that litigation expert O'Melveny & Myers was called upon, not for the first time, to manage a high-profile situation. When Paul Marciano, chairman of clothing brand Guess, was called out by model Kate Upton in allegations of sexual misconduct, O'Melveny was hired to head up the company's probe.
Look elsewhere, and you'll find O'Melveny intervening in cases, and deals, of a similar stature. The firm was chosen as lead trial counsel to defend the huge $85 billion AT&T-Time Warner merger from a DOJ attempt to block it (President Trump had vowed to halt the deal during his presidential campaign).
This headline-grabbing work is the tip of an O'Melveny iceberg: the firm has fifteen offices across three continents, but its roots go deepest in the Golden State. It has five offices there, including the HQ in downtown LA. The firm's best Chambers USA rankings come in California too, and a notable ranking in capital markets demonstrates why O'Melveny's growing transactional work shouldn't be ignored. On that front the firm recently bagged three M&A partners in Century City.
The balance among juniors is roughly 70:30, litigation to transactional. For the first two to three years, litigation associates are unassigned, “floating from one practice group to another based on your interests.” A work coordinator is on hand in each office, but associates could also find work in a more free-market way. Most associates were happy with the co-existence of these two systems. “I knew I didn’t want a firm where it was all informal. That scared me – what if people don’t like you? I liked the availability of that formal channel.”
Litigators had worked on white-collar and investigations, securities litigation, bankruptcy, antitrust and general commercial litigation, seeing matters focused on food and beverages, sports, oil and energy, media and entertainment and more. “At the junior level you get the opportunity to experience and develop familiarity with a whole bunch of litigation sub-genres and I think that is very helpful.” And right from the off, associates are thrown into the thick of it: “My very first day they assigned me to a ten-week antitrust trial. It was an incredible opportunity for my first day of work to go to court. That said, those ten weeks were the hardest I’ve worked in my life, so it balances out.”
Associates by and large felt integrated: “On a white-collar matter, I’m the second most junior person on a team of seven, but one of the partners running that will routinely call me or swing by my office to hear what I have to say. If I pitch an idea he gives me credit. I feel as though I'm a full member of the team.” With that, came client contact for some: “I was asked to put together a PowerPoint for a big client from overseas, and to present it!” Instead of heaps of doc review, juniors find themselves tasked with “making sure we don't miss deadlines on a case, making sure partners know what's coming up, and keeping track of documents. I routinely draft documents and send them to a partner who will edit it. Because partners have a number of cases they won't know the case in such detail – but I need to.”
“You’re reading talent agreements of actors whose work you might enjoy.”
On the corporate front, the firm recently began putting associates into groups when they join, “but it’s not rigid. I can still take on assignments from other groups. The firm recognized some people in corporate didn’t get the training experience that was necessary to progress as fast in departments with very specific skills.” GroupsincludeM&A, finance, project finance and development, and capital markets.But some did feel constrained: “I mostly do capital markets and not necessarily because I picked it, it’s sort of where I got stuck. I wish I’d had more opportunities to try other groups and work with different people.” Associates working on M&A “had to do a lot of diligence. We do a lot on the buy side so we look into the company that the client would be buying and make sure there are no hidden risks to help make sure the transaction will go smoothly.” Entertainment deals make this less dull: “You’re reading talent agreements of actors whose work you might enjoy.” In capital markets matters, an associate recalled “keeping tabs of the progress of the transaction. I'm the one making sure everyone knows what stage a document is at at any given time. I'm like a mini-manager. On smaller transactions they're keen to make your training as fast as possible – I've talked to clients, taken a first stab at drafting some sections, and researched compliance on an IPO.”
Training & Development
New associates get an overview of the firm basics at an orientation, which is followed by a 'Global Academy' program. We heard that due to different start dates for incoming juniors, there can be a bit of a delay between the orientation and the academy for those who join earlier – not that our sources seemed to mind too much: “I think it would have been hard for them to put us through months of training straight away, so I’m glad it was staggered, but it did give you an ‘oh my gosh I don’t know what I’m doing’ feeling for a while.” Annual reviews include a self-evaluation, and then, “every couple of years associates get to review partners anonymously. Consultants come in for detailed interviews with the associates to get feedback on what’s working, and what’s not. That’s really valuable.”
Juniors are assigned two mentors – a partner and an associate. “I feel more comfortable going to my associate mentor with day-to-day questions like, ‘When is it too early to take vacation?’ My partner mentor’s role is to make sure I’m getting to do things I want to in my career. I can ask, for example, ‘How can I take a deposition? Have you heard of any cases I could get on?’” And associates receive other opportunities to rub shoulders with partners in the ‘take a partner to lunch’ program: “Any associate can take any partner to lunch once a month.” Play your cards right and it can lead to work: “There’s a partner who works on investigations I’m interested in, so I asked them to lunch and asked about cases. They had a new investigation, and I got on it.”
Hours & Compensation
At the time of our calls some sources were a bit hazy about how many hours they should be aiming to bill each year, but the firm recently made it clear that 1,900 is the target to shoot for. Fortunately, this number didn't fill our interviewees with apprehension: “I’ve exceeded 1,900 in the two years I’ve been here.” Associates who “demonstrate a superb quality of work are also eligible for a merit bonus.”
“Since I’ve been here – over a year – I really haven’t had any down months.”
Tough schedules were more of a pressing concern: “Since I’ve been here – over a year – I really haven’t had any down months. It’s good in the sense that if the firm is busy, time passes really quickly, but of course nobody would complain if we could have long lunches for a week.” In saying that, associates felt those in charge did what they could to alleviate the pressure: “Managers try hard to organize work so that it doesn’t bleed into evenings unless there’s an unexpected rush. I had concert tickets last week and I told people I really wanted to go. There was no pushback.” Similarly, associates’ vacations weren’t disturbed: “I remember responding to a few emails in the first year and getting angry emails back saying, ‘You’re on vacation!’”
Culture & Offices
Despite demanding hours, associates underlined the fact that “although people get stressed, no one makes other people feel anxious. One assistant has been here for 35 years and that’s not an aberration. You wouldn’t work here for 35 years if there were screamers.”
The O’Melveny culture isn't far off the laid-back vibe its California home is famous for, and associates chorused: “This is really where O’Melveny shines.” For starters, juniors felt they could make connections. We heard of junior buddies skiing together, and “frequently having wine in somebody’s office on Friday evenings. When you’re doing some difficult work, it’s great that you have people you can commiserate with.” Furthermore, “everyone sees themselves as a mentor to everyone more junior than them. I see myself as mentor to first-years.” Having said that, “everyone is pretty assertive and independent – they’ll be able to figure out how to get something done without completely relying on other people.”
Step inside the “boisterous” 'mothership' office in downtown LA, and you'll find “people telling jokes and walking around chatting. On Fridays there’s a farmer’s market across the street, so partners knock on doors to grab lunch and you get a train of people getting food together.” A highlight is the associate and counsel lounge, “with couches and games, a foosball table, a basketball game, and there are some snacks and drinks. I just wish there were more opportunities to use it!” A short drive away in the Century City office, associates here were just as proud of the culture: “We’re hard-working but laid-back, and conscious of community: we have a policy in several offices whereby if we donate to charity then we get to wear jeans.”O’Melveny also has offices in New York, San Francisco, Newport Beach, Silicon Valley and Washington, DC.
Associates were keen to tell us about O’Melveny’s annual Diversity Day, an event “celebrating the diversity of the firm. You're meant to express your own diversity, so one year everyone was asked to submit a photo of themselves showing something colleagues might not know about you. I found out one was an avid hunter, and one assistant grows prize-winning tomatoes.”
“There are, like, 10,000 affinity groups!”
Associates could readily relay the firm's multitude of diversity programs, and their involvement with them. “There are, like, 10,000 affinity groups!” exclaimed one excitable associate.That may be a slight exaggeration, but we heard of a women’s affinity group, a Jewish lawyers group, a Persian group, a Catholic lawyers group, an Asian-American group, a Hispanic group, an African-American group, and an LGBT group. To give one example of these groups' activity, the latter “works closely with LGBT groups at local schools. We have a scholarship program at USC Gould law school.”
“One of my favorite things about the firm is that pro bono is counted one-for-one toward the billing target, and legitimately encouraged. It’s not something we play up to Chambers Associate to make us look good!” That’s us told then. There's no cap on pro bono, and some sources had clocked 200 hours in a year. Associates are free to seek out their own pro bono work but there are also two pro bono counsel (one in New York, one in LA) and a dedicated partner to help distribute matters. We heard about projects with environmental and civil rights groups, and associates were dazzled by the court time and writing experience available. Highlights included “doing an entire deposition by myself for seven hours” on an immigration case, and “a handful of cases representing LGBT organizations, in response to various state laws aimed at restricting rights for LGBT couples and individuals.”
Pro bono hours
- For all US attorneys: 72,092
- Average per US attorney: 118
Strategy & Future
The headline-grabbing work at O'Melveny is no accident. “We like to be in play for those very attractive, top matters. We want to be tapped to try these major cases, and work on cutting-edge deals,” says firm chair Bradley Butwin. And that means identifying the hot new areas of work. “We recently formed a dedicated fintech practice advising early-stage companies and investors on regulations. We have quickly built up teams in areas of demand – we're looking to build upon our strong healthcare, trial and cybersecurity practices too.” The firm also recently added a sports team.
But, above all, Butwin says, O’Melveny's strategy is client-driven: “We’ve got a very loyal and dedicated group of clients who come back to us again and again and our goal is to make sure we continue to stay on top of their needs and grow with them.” That informs a reserved attitude toward expansion too. “The firm's goal is to be in practices and locations where clients need us, as opposed to pursuing a 'plant the flag' strategy.”
Get Hired: interview with hiring partner Allen Burton
Chambers Associate: Could you give us a description of your recruitment process?
Allen Burton: Last year we went to around 30 schools across the country. We recruit at top national schools like Harvard and Yale, but we also go to a mix of schools in various geographies. For example, in New York we go to NYU, Columbia, and Fordham; in DC we go to Georgetown; and in California we go to Stanford and USC. Then we go to some others like Northwestern and the University of Virginia. We look to have a well-balanced cross-section of schools.
In terms of the number of candidates we interview, on campus it’s upwards of 1,000 across the country. We tend to be very gratified when we go on campus. There’s generally a very healthy interest and response level from candidates and because of that schedules tend to be quite full at each of our schools. It’s a tremendous effort to see as many as we do, but one we all look forward to.
Typically, we invite about 20% of the students we see to callbacks. Each callback interview will involve interviews with multiple partners and associates, typically from a variety of practice areas. There will often be a lunch or dinner as part of the callback interview as well. There are times when candidates express an interest in a particular practice area and we make sure they get to meet folks working in those areas. But we also want to make sure candidates have a broad perspective of what’s happening in the office. From the firm’s perspective we’re hiring not just for the summer but we’re looking for somebody we want long-term as an associate, so we get a cross-section of colleagues to meet the candidate.
CA: How involved can junior associates get in recruiting?
AB: Junior associates are heavily involved in the recruiting process from the beginning. They do a lot of on-campus outreach in the lead-up to on-campus interviewing, and participate in interviews when students are interviewing both at OCI and in callbacks. They often take candidates that come in through the office to lunch, and we very much encourage and solicit their feedback on candidates.
CA: Could you give us a description of your summer program?
AB: This year we have an approximately 70-person summer class. We don’t have a set number of summer offers; it varies year to year. We evaluate each candidate on their own – we’re not hitting a target or limit per se. We have a sense of the size of our classes over time that we are aiming to get to, and we just have to judge those numbers based on the candidates coming through the door.
The main overriding principle of our summer program is to give our summers a rich and realistic experience, so they can see what it’s like to be a lawyer at O’Melveny. Our summers get involved immediately in substantive work assignments and are engaged in our office from day one. It’s an intense experience because they juggle very substantive work assignments with fun, exciting opportunities to get to know people in the office. By the end of the program, our summers are always amazed at how much they’ve done and just how much they feel part of the firm and office.
CA: What are your entry-level recruitment plans for the next couple of years?
AB: We expect that our summer class size will go up a bit because we do have some 1L summer associates as well. We also have the William T. Coleman, Jr. Diversity Fellowship, which is named after William Coleman, a former O’Melveny partner who was one of the architects behind the landmark Brown vs. Board of Education case. In terms of going forward, we don’t foresee any major changes to those numbers. It’s about right in each of our offices; that number translates into a very nice and effective balance. We have a sizable summer class in each office, but not so big that summers in any way slip through the cracks and aren’t able to get attention to ensure they have the most rewarding experience. Because the classes aren’t huge our summers can get to know the office and their fellow summers very well.
CA: Could you tell us a bit more about the diversity fellowship?
AB: Our diversity fellowship is awarded to one or more 1Ls each year. They become part of our summer program and the criteria for them is similar to our 2L candidates, but the fellowship also recognizes one of our really key priorities, which is commitment to diversity as part of our general values-driven approach. The candidates for the fellowship are students that have outstanding academic achievement, oftentimes have a diverse experience in their own lives, and have shown a commitment to facilitating diversity initiatives. Our fellowship recipients come in as 1Ls and then hopefully come back as 2Ls.
CA: What kind of questions do you ask in the interview?
AB: Obviously each student is different, and we tend to ask a broad range of questions. Not only do we want to get to know them as individuals and what makes them tick, but we’re also trying to talk about how they have reacted to situations in their own lives. I often will ask about a candidate’s process for working through challenging situations and examples where they had to employ those strategies. We also ask about substantive legal topics based on work experience that they’ve had, or classes they’ve found interesting. At the end of the day discussing substantive legal topics is what we’re doing with our clients, so we want our candidates to be thinking along those lines and being prepared to have substantive discussions. Then we want to hear from candidates why they’re enthusiastic about O’Melveny and what it is about O’Melveny that makes them think the firm is a good fit for them.
CA: What makes someone stand out in an interview?
AB: The students that stand out are the ones who project enthusiasm for O’Melveny, and also for practicing the kind of law we practice. One pitfall is that in order to show you’re enthusiastic about O’Melveny, you need to have done some homework about what we do and our practice areas. Asking questions that reflect you haven’t learned anything about the firm can be off-putting.
CA: What does O’Melveny offer that is unique?
AB: I think we have a rare balance between a dedication to excellence and absolute top-level legal work, and a warm and caring culture that we are incredibly proud and protective of. I think it’s a very difficult balance for firms to strike and I’m very proud of that balance here at O’Melveny. I think that our culture is unique in the sense that people here genuinely enjoy working with each other and don’t take it for granted. Because of that, we are very protective of that culture through our recruiting process.
O'Melveny & Myers LLP
400 South Hope Street,
- Number of domestic offices: 7
- Number of international offices: 8
- Worldwide revenue: $738 million
- Partners (US): 186
- Associates (US): 438
- Main recruitment contact: Tina Metis
- Hiring partner: Allen Burton
- Diversity officer: Mary Ellen Connerty
- Recruitment details
- Entry-level associates starting in 2018: 44
- Clerking policy: Yes
- Summers joining/anticipated 2018:
- 1Ls: 4, 2Ls: 70, 3Ls: 0, SEO: 6
- Summers joining/anticipated 2018 split by office:
- Century City: 11, Los Angeles: 20, Newport Beach: 8, New York: 13, San Francisco: 10, Silicon Valley: 3, Washington, DC: 10
- Summer salary 2018:
- 1Ls: $3,500/week
- 2Ls: $3,500/week
- Split summers offered? Case by case
- Can summers spend time in an overseas office? No
Main areas of work
Berkeley, Brooklyn, Chapman, Chicago, Columbia, Duke, Fordham, Georgetown, George Washington, Harvard, Hastings, Howard, Lavender Law, Loyola, Michigan, Northwestern, NYU, Penn, Santa Clara, Stanford, UCI, UCLA, University of Washington, USC, UVA, Yale
Recruitment outside OCIs:
Last year, O’Melveny recruited on campus at more than 25 schools, in addition to accepting write-in applications and conducting resume collections. We aim to strike a balance between recruiting at national schools and regional schools within our various markets. We also participate in diversity career fairs and initiatives, such as Lavender Law and veteran recruiting events. We continue to connect with a variety of law student organizations for speaking engagements, networking events, and sponsorships.
Summer associate profile:
We’re looking for candidates who are enthusiastic about O’Melveny. We consider a variety of criteria when making hiring decisions, including high academic achievement, extracurricular activities, prior professional work, and a diverse set of experiences.
Summer program components:
Our summer program offers an inside look at what it is like to practice at O’Melveny. During our ten-week program, summer associates work on major cases and deals, support ongoing pro bono matters, participate in targeted training and development programs, and join in social events to get to know our attorneys. Experiential training includes our Advocacy Institute, Mock Deal Program, and opportunities to accompany O’Melveny lawyers to deal closings, client meetings, depositions, and court appearances. Our work coordination system ensures our summers are exposed to a variety of practice areas, attorneys, and types of work. Mentors, ongoing feedback, and a midsummer review help our summer associates make the most of their experiences.
This Firm's Rankings in
USA Guide, 2019
- Antitrust (Band 2)
- Bankruptcy/Restructuring (Band 4)
- Capital Markets: Debt & Equity (Band 3)
- Insurance: Insurer (Band 4)
- Intellectual Property (Band 4)
- Labor & Employment (Band 3)
- Litigation: General Commercial (Band 3)
- Litigation: Securities (Band 2)
- Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations (Band 2)
- Media & Entertainment: Litigation (Band 2)
- Media & Entertainment: Transactional (Band 2)
District of Columbia
- Antitrust (Band 4)
- Litigation: General Commercial (Band 4)
Los Angeles & Surrounds
- Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation (Band 3)
- Bankruptcy/Restructuring (Band 4)
- Environment: Mainly Transactional (Band 3)
- Insurance: Dispute Resolution: Insurer (Band 4)
- Litigation: General Commercial: Highly Regarded (Band 3)
- Litigation: Securities (Band 4)
- Tax (Band 3)
USA - Nationwide
- Antitrust (Band 4)
- Antitrust: Cartel (Band 2)
- Appellate Law (Band 4)
- Bankruptcy/Restructuring (Band 5)
- ERISA Litigation (Band 1)
- Insurance: Dispute Resolution: Insurer (Band 2)
- International Trade: CFIUS Experts (Band 3)
- International Trade: Export Controls & Economic Sanctions (Band 4)
- Product Liability & Mass Torts (Band 4)
- Projects: PPP (Band 2)
- Sports Law (Band 3)