Looking to blend billion-dollar matters with some of the country’s leading pro bono causes? The name’s Weiss. Paul, Weiss.
“THERE’S something important about the firm that you need to know,” one interviewee set up, ominously. We braced ourselves. “Paul, Weiss is really committed to doing good.” Phew. We checked it out and PW does have an admirable track record in this respect: over the years its pro bono conscious lawyers have been involved in landmark civil rights cases, which span the ending of racial segregation in US schools in the early 50s to the securing of equal marriage in the US in 2013. “The firm is always thinking about its place in the world and making an effort to be part of political change,” summarized one proud source. This sentiment was echoed by every single interviewee we spoke with at PW, with many of them – from contentious and noncontentious practices alike – hailing from a public interest background before arriving at the firm. PW chairman Brad Karp tells us that recently the firm has been working on “defending civil liberties that have been targeted by this Administration. The firm has resisted every effort by this Administration to abridge fundamental rights and liberties. For many, this is the most important work that this firm does. To a large degree, our country depends on firms like ours to take on the Administration to safeguard the rule of law.” More deets on these efforts later…
“The country is depending on firms like us.”
Aside from seismic pro bono work, PW has a stellar reputation in a multitude of its practice areas. Despite having only a moderate domestic presence (three offices, with New York as its HQ), the firm boasts a wide array of nationwide rankings in Chambers USA,where highlights include bankruptcy/restructuring; corporate crime & investigations; and securities litigation. PW is also recognized as one of the elites in New York for its work in white-collar crime and commercial litigation. It’s also top-rated for its niche IP and media and entertainment practices, where the likes of Sigourney Weaver, VICE, Sony Music, Universal, Warner Brothers and Marvel provide a small snapshot of the firm’s star-studded books.
Strategy & Future
This past year has seen PW hiring a flurry of “very high-profile and uber talented lateral partners,”says chairman Brad Karp. The firm has hired senior partners into its private equity and employee benefits groups, but also – in a high-profile move – brought over Kannon Shanmugam; the 27-time Supreme Court case arguer was appointed managing partner of the DCoffice and has established an entire Supreme Court appellate practice at the firm. Karp tells us “this has created a number of new client opportunities for us; it has been a very positive business development."
The high-profile arrivals don’t stop there: Loretta Lynch, former Attorney General of the United States, and Jeannie Rhee, special counsel for the Muller investigation, have both recently boosted the firm’s government and internal investigations practice. Though PW is a stickler for home-grown talent (“approximately 80% of our partners are home-grown”), Karp is excited to say: “Who wouldn’t want Loretta Lynch as a partner?” Not to be forgotten, there’s one other rapidly expanding area for the firm…
“People ask me all the time, ‘What is the firm’s fastest-growing practice area?’ I always say pro bono,” says Karp. He adds that the firm has tripled its pro bono hours over the last three years – an achievement “coinciding with the Trump presidency. We have task forces dedicated to immigrant rights, defending families separated by the Administration at the border, women’s reproductive rights, criminal justice reform, gun control and LGBTQ rights matters." One recent pro bono case saw PW attorneys pave the way for victims of gun crime to sue the gun manufacturer. Associates told us it’s “really interesting to do the behind the scenes work for local or national organizations that are working together to come up with creative solutions to combat gun violence.”
“...working together to come up with creative solutions to combat gun violence.”
There’s no cap on the number of pro bono hours that count as billable. Litigation associates had seen their pro bono hours soar of late: “About a third of my work is pro bono – for some it’s half!” However, corporate interviewees tended to float around the 50-hour mark – we were informed that firm deputy chair Valerie Radwaner recently held a meeting for the corporate team “to urge corporate attorneys to do more pro bono, so our department is now big in reunification of families separated at the border."
Pro bono hours
- For all US offices: 129,487
- Average per US attorney: 137
Half of the associates on our list made themselves a home in PW’s litigation practice, while just over a third headed to corporate. The firm’s tax, real estate, employee benefits and bankruptcy groups housed the remainder. The vast majority of juniors on our list were based in New York, but PW’s DC base held ten associates, all in litigation. Associates gather work from a ‘workflow coordinator’ who “works as a mediator between associates and partners. It’s a two-way street – you can ask for certain types of work and be given work too.” Sources felt the system gave them “the best of both worlds. You have a lot of a say on the type of work you do.”
The array of matters in litigation is broad. There’s work up for grabs on bankruptcy matters, M&A disputes, white-collar investigations, securities class actions, employment cases and more. “We’re encouraged to be generalists – they make sure you’re never specialized too deep,” a litigator informed us. M&A litigations, sources explained, often concern law suits (or threatened law suits) that challenge mergers or proposed mergers, while securities work involves a lot of class actions and complicated contractual points “in relation to bonds or securities.” On the investigations side, matters involve Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC); insider trading; employment discrimination; internal corporate and Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) investigations. On the whole, juniors can expect to draft motions to dismiss, interview and deposition outlines, and research memos. Some lucky associates get to second-chair depositions and witness interviews. We heard reports of a lot of doc review too, but our interviewees instead called it “fact development,” with the consolation being that “it’s nice to be able to sit and work on something and really devote time for it.”
Litigation clients: National Football League, IBM and Barnes & Noble. Defended Altice USA against a breach of merger agreement claim made by Cablevision’s former controlling family and two employees.
“You feel like you’ve got the keys to the deal!”
The corporate department is predominantly based in New York and is split into the following groups: finance; ERISA; tax; IP; private funds; securities; and capital markets. Juniors begin their corporate lives as generalists (“a free agent”) for between 12 and 18 months before a formal process slots them into a subgroup. Associates found it “helpful to be able to fully explore your options before choosing a path.” The finance subgroup does a lot of leveraged finance deals, buyouts and structured finance work for private equity clients, generating “spinoff” work for the entire corporate group. Associates here have been known to get to negotiate new terms – “it’s really interesting to get to understand their viewpoints on the deal.” The private funds subgroup does a lot of fundraising and reorganizations of funds for “big money managers,” sources here reported. They had coordinated subscription agreements, organized comments, drafted side letters and taken notes on calls. The M&A team advises on mainly buyer-side deals spanning sectors such as construction, technology and telecommunications. Associates here mark up term sheets and merger agreements, conduct due diligence, update checklists and take comments from IP, real estate and tax lawyers – “you’re the gatekeeper of all comments. You feel like you’ve got the keys to the deal!”
Corporate clients: Qualcomm, Kraft Heinz and Apollo Global Management. Recently advised the latter on its $2.7 billion acquisition of Shutterfly.
“The firm has formal guidelines on where you should be at any point, so it’s very clear,” one junior assured us. For those who have their eye on the partnership, discussions about pursuing this track begin in the fifth year, according to sources. Going in-house is reportedly one of the most common exit routes for corporate associates (“I’d like to work for a fund,” proclaimed one), and litigation leavers, we were told, jump over to the likes of government departments and charities.
“It makes it a lot less scary!”
Associates were fans of senior associates and partners who “take the initiative to reach out to see if you have any questions – it makes it a lot less scary!” Partners deliver about two trainings a month for the first year and then drop to hosting quarterly sessions in the second year: “They’re not always the most interesting things, but they’re very thoughtfully presented,” judged one junior. Interviewees tended to value day-to-day development more – “seniors are receptive to teaching and treat each case as a learning experience, looping juniors into their strategy discussions.”
Looking at some of the firm's recent hires and pro bono projects, you might suspect a certain political leaning. Democratic candidates Kamala Harris, Joe Biden and Pete Buttigieg have given talks at the firm – “we potentially saw the next president in a room of 75 people!” At the same time, associates were keen to point out that “there are a diverse range of political views here – Republicans who aren’t embarrassed of being Republicans!” However, overall there’s “no denying there’s a liberal bend, especially from the top down.”
“...we potentially saw the next president in a room of 75 people!”
Leaving politics aside, associates told us the PW culture promotes “being open but introspective.” Senior leadership holds biannual meetings where “people feel free to share some pretty pointed criticism with the chairman. He’s open-minded to hearing it without offense, even if he doesn’t agree.” This is reflective of an atmosphere that interviewees described as “very respectful – everybody feels like they can be themselves, it’s not buttoned-up and people are their authentic, genuine selves.”
Regular social activities include a Friday afternoon cocktail party in the New York cafeteria: “You can make your own cocktails! It’s an opportunity to get to know people you’d otherwise only know on the phone.”Juniors rated the summer program’s $65 per person budget to “take a summer for coffee, drinks, food or even to a workout. It means you know a lot of people on day one when you come back!”
Diversity & Inclusion
After a LinkedIn post by the firm in January 2019 showed an all-white partnership promotion (something the media keenly picked up on), PW has made “a very large effort to have firmwide discussions to effect real change.” A diversity and inclusion taskforce was established in 2019 and “the message from the leadership is they’re absolutely committed to listening and learning how to make things better together.”
"They’re absolutely committed to listening and learning."
Every ‘diverse’ junior associate is paired with a partner mentor, though “people are very busy – the firm could schedule activities, so partners invest more time in mentees.” PW has affinity networks for Black, Latinx, Asia-Pacific and women lawyers, as well as pride and family groups. Each network puts on events around the holidays and hosts meetings every few months. The women’s group, we heard, has a “pretty active” book club. However, some felt that “outside of that, there’s not much cohesiveness. It feels like there are meetings, but not much change.” One “really amazing” change the firm recently implemented was the inclusion of pronouns in email signatures – “hopefully it starts catching on at other firms!”
Hours & Compensation
Juniors at PW don’t have a billable hours target and the firm has a lockstep compensation and bonus system. Interviewees were positive about this set-up, with one explaining: “Having no target – your quality of life depends on that, especially as a junior: there’s no pressure to hit targets to earn an extra $20K. If you go through a slow patch, you’re not stressed about it.” On the topic of bonuses, a junior told us that “unless there’s a significant problem, you’re pretty much going to get one.”
But not having a target certainly doesn’t mean no work – our interviewees were mostly billing the New York junior average of 2,000 annual hours. Starting around 9:30am and leaving between 7pm and 8pm was common, as was logging back on from home to do a couple hours more grinding before calling it a day. Busy spells can see corporate and litigation associates alike racking up 16 hours of billables a day. As with many firms, flexible working is on the rise at PW, with associates in some departments sharing comments like: “You just get work done wherever you need to get it done. I work from home when I’m busy so I can still spend time with my family.”
The first stage: recruitment on and off campus
OCI applicants interviewed: 1,005
Interviewees outside OCI: 124
Paul, Weiss participates in OCIs at over 25 law schools, where partners interview potential summers. The number of students interviewed varies by school. The firm also participates in resume drops and diversity job fairs Lavender Law and NEBLSA, and also accepts direct applications. Typical questions are “based on a candidate’s resume and previous academic/work experiences, and also explore the candidate’s interest in the practice of law,” Paul, Weiss' hiring team tells us.
Top tips for this stage:
“Once I was in the door doing interviews, I felt I could genuinely be friends with the people. It felt like a real conversation, not an interview.” – a junior associate
“Candidates should demonstrate they are well‐rounded, including having a strong academic record, varied life experiences and commitment to excellence in the practice of law.” – Paul, Weiss hiring team
Applicants invited to second stage interview: 433
Callbacks consist of four interviews – two with associates and two with partners or counsel. Questions here focus on “the candidate’s interest in Paul, Weiss and our practice.” One junior associate recalled getting their offer after the callback: “When I was trying to decide between firms, it was special that partners were willing to take time and meet with me to help me through decision making process. It made it an easy decision!”
Top tips for this stage:
“Paul, Weiss is looking for candidates with diverse backgrounds and interests who are passionate about the practice of law and have a genuine interest in our firm.” – Paul, Weiss hiring team
The firm's hiring team tells us that the summer associate program at Paul, Weiss is “more than just legal training.” The program gives summers the “opportunity to shape their summer experience, by choosing one department to call home, or selecting a variety of work from a number of different practice areas.” Summers get designated both a partner and associate mentor who “help them make connections with other lawyers at the firm and guide them in their work.” Summers’ training consists of small group sessions, individual skills development workshops and classroom-style presentations.
One junior told us “I was so satisfied with my summer experience that I didn’t look elsewhere afterwards," and the firm says “most students who summer at Paul, Weiss will return as junior associates.” It’s not uncommon for members of the summer associate class to defer their start date to do judicial clerkships. Incoming associates are extended an offer to join a particular department upon completion of the summer program.
Notable summer events: Shakespeare in the Park, a firm-wide reception at the Museum of Modern Art, a private suite for a Yankees game, a sunset sail around Manhattan, an ‘Iron Chef’ style cooking competition and many more unique networking opportunities.
Top tips for this stage:
“Be proactive and engaged. Explore a variety of practice areas and assignments. Try to attend as many trainings, events and networking opportunities as possible to get the most out of your summer experience.” – Paul, Weiss hiring team
Interview with Chairman Brad Karp
Chambers Associate: How would you describe the firm's current market position?
Brad Karp: We’ve had a very successful and dynamic year. We’ve brought in a number of very high-profile and uber talented lateral partners over the past 12 months. We’ve welcomed Loretta Lynch, the first African-American Attorney General of the United States; Jeannie Rhee, a leading member of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigative team; Sarah Stasny, a senior private equity lawyer from Kirkland & Ellis; and Jean McLoughlin, who headed the employee benefits group at Davis Polk.
Also, with the addition of Kannon Shanmugam from Williams & Connolly, we now have a Supreme Court appellate practice. We have always been the nation’s leading litigation firm, but we have never had a true appellate court practice until now. This has created a number of new client opportunities for us; it has been a very positive business development.
CA: That’s a lot of laterals – is this a change in tactic for the firm?
BK: We always try to be opportunistic. Approximately 80% of our partners are homegrown, so we are not a firm that is populated with a lot of lateral partners. At the end of the day, our goal is to make sure that we have the leading talent in the world in each of our core practice areas. Who wouldn’t want to bring on Loretta Lynch as a partner! The same with Jeannie, Kannon and everyone else I mentioned. With Sarah Stasny, we were driven by our growth needs in private equity – the practice has exploded over the past few years. The same is true in M&A and restructuring. We need to have the staffing to handle the demand we’re already seeing. We have been an extraordinarily appealing landing spot for star laterals.
CA: Which practices/sector focuses/offices have you earmarked for growth over the next year and why?
BK: I expect that we will continue to invest in our public M&A, private equity and restructuring practices.
People ask me all the time “what is the firm’s fastest growing practice area?” I always say pro bono. We’ve tripled our pro bono hours over last three years, coinciding with the Trump presidency. We have task forces dedicated to immigrant rights, defending families separated by The Administration at the border, women’s reproductive rights, criminal justice reform, gun control and LGBTQ rights matters.
We have dedicated our firm’s resources to defending civil liberties that have been targeted by this Administration. The firm has resisted every effort by this Administration to abridge fundamental rights and liberties. For many, this is the most important work that this firm does. To a large degree, our country depends on firms like ours to take on the Administration to safeguard the rule of law.
CA: How do you think the profession has changed since you started out practicing as a lawyer?
BK: The most significant change is the continued transformation of law as a profession to law as a bottom-line, commercial enterprise. There’s a lot more mobility of partners, and a much greater focus on compensation. ‘Eat what you kill’, variable compensation schemes are more common, which, in my view, is unfortunate. From speaking with my peers at other firms, I sense eroding respect and collegiality within partnerships. Those structures can encourage an aggressive and hostile atmosphere. The ubiquity of technology, coupled with the increasingly competitive landscape, increases burnout and undoubtedly has contributed to some of the mental health challenges seen across the profession.
Fewer and fewer law firms stand for old-time professional values. I’m old school. I genuinely believe that values matter more than profits. I cannot imagine working at a law firm that doesn’t stand for professionalism and excellence and giving back to society.
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?
BK: Only work for an institution or an organization with a supportive culture and strong value system. Work in a practice area that you really love. We all put so much energy and time into our work, which makes it imperative that we pursue interests that have great meaning and are rewarding. I’ve never thought for a single day that I ‘just have a job’. I’ve always believed that I was making a positive impact. I’ve been very fortunate.
Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP
1285 Avenue of the Americas,
- Head Office: New York, NY
- Number of domestic offices: 3
- Number of international offices: 6
- Worldwide revenue: $1,387,694,283
- Partners (US): 139
- Associates (US): 632
- Main recruitment contact: Pamela Davidson, Chief Legal Personnel & Recruitment Officer
- Hiring partners: Neil Goldman and Catherine Nyarady
- Chief Inclusion Officer: Danyale Price
- Women’s Initiative Director: Anne Weisberg
- Recruitment details
- Entry-level associates starting in2020: 106
- Clerking policy: Yes
- Summers joining/anticipated 2020: 1Ls: 9; 2Ls: 95; SEO 1Ls: 2
- Summers joining/anticipated 2020 split by office: NY: 93; DC: 13
- Summer salary 2020:
- 1Ls: $3,700/week
- 2Ls: $3,700/week
- 3Ls: $3,700/week
- Split summers offered? Yes
- Can summers spend time in an overseas office? Yes
Main areas of work
Recruitment outside OCIs: In addition to participating in the above OCI programs, resume collects and diversity job fairs, Paul, Weiss also interviews select strong candidates who submit their applications directly for 2L, 3L and post‐clerkship positions.
Summer associate profile: You should have a strong academic record, life experience, and initiative and commitment to excellence in the practice of law.
Summer program components: The summer associate program at Paul, Weiss is more than just legal training, it is an introduction to life at one of New York’s most unique law firms. Summer associates at Paul, Weiss have the opportunity to shape their summer experience, by choosing one department to call home, or selecting a variety of work from a number of different practice areas. Summer associates are assigned partner and associate mentors who help them make connections with other lawyers at the firm and guide them in their work. Summer associate training consists of a mix of highly interactive small group sessions, individual skills development workshops and more traditional classroom‐style presentations.
This Firm's Rankings in
USA Guide, 2020
District of Columbia
- Antitrust (Band 3)
- Litigation: General Commercial (Band 2)
- Antitrust (Band 2)
- Bankruptcy/Restructuring (Band 1)
- Corporate/M&A: The Elite (Band 2)
- Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation (Band 2)
- Intellectual Property: Patent (Band 1)
- Litigation: General Commercial: The Elite (Band 1)
- Litigation: Securities (Band 1)
- Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations (Band 1)
- Media & Entertainment: Corporate (Band 1)
- Media & Entertainment: Litigation (Band 3)
- Real Estate: Mainly Corporate & Finance (Band 2)
- Real Estate: Mainly Dirt (Band 2)
- Tax (Band 2)
USA - Nationwide
- Antitrust (Band 3)
- Antitrust: Cartel (Band 2)
- Banking & Finance (Band 3)
- Bankruptcy/Restructuring (Band 1)
- Capital Markets: Equity: Issuer Counsel (Band 3)
- Capital Markets: High-Yield Products (Band 4)
- Capital Markets: Securitisation (Band 4)
- Corporate Crime & Investigations (Band 1)
- Corporate/M&A: The Elite (Band 2)
- Energy: Mining & Metals (Transactional) Spotlight Table
- ERISA Litigation (Band 3)
- FCPA (Band 3)
- Financial Services Regulation: Banking (Enforcement & Investigations) (Band 2)
- Investment Funds: Hedge Funds (Band 2)
- Investment Funds: Private Equity: Fund Formation (Band 2)
- Private Equity: Buyouts: High-end Capability (Band 2)
- Real Estate (Band 4)
- Retail: Corporate & Transactional (Band 2)
- Securities: Litigation (Band 1)
- Securities: Regulation (Band 2)
- Sports Law (Band 4)
- Tax: Corporate & Finance (Band 2)