Come for the top-tier work, stay for “genuine” colleagues at a firm with California roots now spread widely across the US.
With law firm structures looking similar and workflows largely the same across BigLaw, cutting through a broadly comparable employment market can be tricky. So how does a firm win the war for talent? “It sounds kind of cheesy,” one source said, “but it really was the people.” Time and time again this came up during our research, with sources characterizing colleagues as “genuine, with no posture or performance.” And in an “ego-driven industry,” juniors emphasized that “people genuinely being themselves was so refreshing.” One source succinctly found: “It’s a humane approach to law here.”
Yet no business shines on platitudes and niceties. This established US firm receives top-tier rankings from Chambers USA for its various offices: construction, tax, and corporate/M&A in California; construction, technology and outsourcing in DC; white-collar crime investigations in New York; IP work in Northern Virginia; plus various nationwide top-rankings in electricity finance, nuclear regulation and litigation, alcohol, outsourcing, and aviation regulatory work.
Pillsbury has 14 offices sprawled across the country, and also calls on six other bases in the global sphere. Firm chair David Dekker has previously spoken of a ‘no home’ philosophy for the firm, reinforced in no small part by the pandemic and the invisibility of working barriers it brought with it. “We continue to have a no principal office philosophy,” Dekker tells us. “Washington, DC is our largest office, but we don’t view DC as the headquarters, it just happens to be our largest office at present. In the US we have a strategic focus on the two coasts plus Texas, as opposed to a single critical market.” Our associate list showed a relatively even split between juniors in New York and DC, with a handful located across Northern Virginia, California (multiple sites), and Houston.
TOP READ: A 360 approach to lawyer wellbeing, with Pillsbury.
Pillsbury’s firmwide practices can be broadly grouped into three categories: regulatory, litigation, and work for businesses. Summer associates are “encouraged to try all different areas of the firm’s work” before settling on a practice. After submitting three choices, associates are then assigned to a practice area based on firm need. Most juniors either join litigation or corporate and securities practice groups, though some did find a home in areas including public practices, energy, tax, IP, and finance. Work allocation across all these groups and offices is “more informal than expected” and involves “building relationships with colleagues that decide who they like working with and will subsequently reach out.”
“I’m actually adding value in my cases… You’re given significant responsibility here at Pillsbury.”
The firm’s litigationarm covers complex commercial litigation, white-collar investigations, contract disputes, trusts litigation, bankruptcy, and insurance work on the policyholder side. “It’s quite nice being at one of the fewer BigLaw firms that is the ‘good guy’ and goes against the insurance company,” one source said. “Representing David instead of Goliath.” Elsewhere sources had worked on “several breach of contract matters,” fraud cases, and RICO work for aviation clients. While broadly similar, litigation practices differ slightly across the offices: “New York has a strong litigation practice, DC has global outsourcing disputes, and California focuses on energy and environmental issues.” Across the board though, responsibility came thick and fast for our sources. “I second-chaired 15 depositions in my first year,” beamed one junior. “There’s just lots of good work to go around.” Another highlighted “taking on a bigger and more complex role” in an intricate construction dispute. “I’m actually adding value in my cases,” one source felt. “I’ve written two briefs for the Second Circuit in the last three months. You’re given significant responsibility here at Pillsbury.”
Litigation clients: Lyft, Spirit Aerosystems, and IQVIA. The firm represented transport company Bombardier in two adversary proceedings brought by a trustee of a private jet operator that went into bankruptcy, who was trying to get back money from various entities.
On the corporate side, the firm covers M&A, emerging company work, venture capital, private equity and securities deals. Energy, tech, and financial institutions keep the corporate books full, as well as work for clients in consumer products and business-enterprise software. Sources also highlighted high levels of responsibility here: “I was emailing clients directly in first year,” one source told us. “I feel very confident answering questions now without input from higher up.” Sources had worked on corporate formation and governance for emerging companies, and helping those companies – or other more established ones – go public, as well as debt and equity financings. “Over the last two years I’ve gotten to do every aspect: from the term sheet, to drafting, to preparing the closing set.”
Corporate clients: AT&T, BioLegend, and Grupo Televisa. The firm represented data company Inphi in its $10 billion acquisition by Marvell Technology Group.
Regulatory practices at Pillsbury are grouped under the firm’s public practicesumbrella. “It’s a catch-all for relatively small regulatory groups and you technically belong to all of them,” one source confirmed. Nonprofit, policy, lobbying, government contracts, international trade, aviation, and political law work all cropped up in our interviews. “I also do some cybersecurity monitoring – figuring out what’s going on for clients in government,” one source said, going on to explain their involvement in work for foreign governments. One junior felt “thrown in the deep end” when taking charge of expert witness work, but quickly added that “it was super interesting. I also got to support the deposition of a CEO.” Sources had also drafted deposition outlines, overseen document review processes, and “helped negotiate the environment that some foreign state clients are entering into in DC.”
Public practices clients: AECOM, General Atomics, Sierra Nevada. The firm continues to serve as federal public policy counsel to EDF Renewable Energy North America, representing the company before the White House and various federal agencies.
Juniors were pleased to report a real emphasis on development at Pillsbury. “If you’re not doing something right and you need improvement, they tell you constructively and not in a way that belittles you.” Sources praised the firm’s “responsive” attitude to training and development, highlighting how informal mentorships “have been excellent, with people going the extra mile.” Formalized training faced some scrutiny from our sources, but juniors were quick to caveat that with that fact there’s a healthy open dialogue with the development committee. “People have been very interested in hearing what I want to do and have put things in place to make me happy,” one shared.
“They’re trying to build that organic pipeline of talent.”
Looking long-term, sources felt making partner was “achievable” and “attainable,” with “support available if that’s the route you want.” One source clarified: “The firm mostly promotes people internally and people are always talking about it. They’re trying to build that organic pipeline of talent.”
Hours & Compensation
Billable hours: 1,950 target
But how achievable is sustaining that pipeline of talent when BigLaw hours are notoriously so demanding? “In general, I’ve found the hours to be quite humane,” one source shared. Pillsbury associates have a 1,950 hour billing target, up to 300 of which can be devoted to approved pro bono. Associates can also receive up to 150 hours of credit for time spent on training activities. “Things differ month on month,” one junior explained. “Some months I have complete control over my work/life balance, and then some months it’s all-consuming.” The former would see juniors “encouraged to log off around 6pm unless anything urgent comes in,” whereas the latter would see sources clock around “300 hours a month when things are particularly busy.” Overall though, sources commended the approach of those more senior. “People are reasonable,” one source admitted. “There are ways to set boundaries on your time. Even people asking you to go above and beyond is done in a very respectful way.”
Pillsbury matched the recent market salary increases. “I appreciated they were so quick to meet the scale,” one source commented. “I’m definitely happy with our compensation structure. The bonus is achievable when working a steady and consistent seven to eight billable hour working day. It’s all attainable and fair.” We’re told there’s also the opportunity to achieve a ‘super bonus’ and ‘super bonus +’ for doing more than 2,200 hours.
Sources noticed “lots of encouragement” to get involved in pro bono matters: “It’s part of the culture here and no one will tell you to ignore it for billable work.” There are established links with organizations like National Center for Youth Law, as well as support for individuals to bring in their own pro bono projects.
"Supporting Black-owned companies to gain funding, while also providing legal counsel."
Typical pro bono matters include landlord/tenant cases, helping individuals get green cards, and research work for cases going to the Supreme Court. The firm also introduced its Black-Owned Startup Support Lab (BOSS Lab) last year, “which was a very cool initiative encouraging and supporting Black-owned companies to gain funding, while also providing legal counsel. It feels unique.”
Pro bono hours
- For all (US) attorneys: 33,694
- Average per (US) attorney: 63.2
Diversity, Equity & Inclusion
The BOSS Lab venture formed part of the firm’s financial contribution to social justice initiatives according to Dekker: “It has been successful; we’re on track to meet and far exceed the target we set of $11 million in additional contributions over three years. We’ve seen both charitable giving and pro bono numbers tracking up substantially.” Sources also spoke to a renewed commitment to diverse recruitment, with new approaches adopted. For example, source told us: “We’ve started interviewing for OCI outside our typical T14 schools to increase diversity.” So while “things are lacking at higher levels” like much of BigLaw, sources looked to the future with optimism. “There’s a real effort to change,” one source reflected. “They’re engaging seriously with these issues and the commitment is real.” The firm does scoop various diversity accolades, and has scored 100% in the Corporate Equality Index from Human Rights Campaign since 2006. Elsewhere, sources were also keen to highlight the firm’s chief diversity officer, who was described as “one of the kindest attorneys at the firm.”
"...associates are treated with the utmost respect and our opinions matters – you add value!”
“I think it’s pretty low-key for a law firm environment,” one source reflected fondly. “It’s friendly and people know each other, or at least try to know each other.” Another added that the Pillsbury culture was “the best thing about the firm; associates are treated with the utmost respect and our opinions matters – you add value!” Sources appreciated that this also fostered an environment where it was very easy to make friends: “I became friends with people very quickly. We have very unfiltered and candid chats with one another, getting to decompress and discuss the tougher times.” Weekly subgroup lunches in New York are starting to coax people back into the office as well. “I went to my first one and everyone was just so happy to catch up, which I think is indicative of people enjoying each other’s company!” Sources summarized the firm as “a lunch and happy hour on a roof bar place rather than a crazy party place.”
Strategy & Future
Looking ahead, Dekker feels “very confident about the next five years. We have been on a very good financial trajectory, alongside other metrics we track, such as diversity. There’s lots of positive energy within the firm.” He adds: "From a financial perspective we’ve had an outstanding year. Our practices are generally busy across the board, and we’ve seen relatively high levels of demand, including the number of transactions taking place, such as SPACs, de-SPACS and mergers, which are all helping drive growth. We’re expecting a record year financially."
But will this growth undermine the firm’s friendlier environment? “It used to be labeled as a family-oriented firm within BigLaw, but I sense maybe a slight shift away from that as we become a serious competitor in the BigLaw space,” one source said. However, another source found that despite an increasing headcount and the expansion of its New York office, the firm is conscious of “growing while balancing its approach to work-life balance.”
The first stage: recruitment on and off campus
OCI applicants interviewed: undisclosed
Pillsbury conducts OCIs at 25 law schools, which are mostly ranked in the top 20. Mariah Brandt, Chair of On-Campus Recruiting, explained: “To keep our recruiting as diverse as possible, we attend particular career fairs like the Lavender Law Fair for LGBT students and the Black Law Student Association (BLSA) law fair.” Pillsbury also attends a few speciality fairs, like the IP law fair at Loyola in Chicago, plus the occasional resume drop at a particular school.
A mix of partners and associates are involved in the process: “We have recruiting committees in each office, and generally attorneys from those committees are the ones who go on campus to conduct interviews for the firm.”
The firm styles the interview in a conversational way, “so that we get to know the candidate.” This means there aren’t any set questions, but the interviewers typically ask candidates competency-based questions: “For example, we would to look at a candidate’s resume and ask questions about an activity or a job they listed to determine if the candidate has exhibited leadership skills, entrepreneurial spirit, and the ability to take initiative,” says Brandt.
Top tips for this stage: “First, be yourself. It always comes across better to be your genuine self rather than trying to be who you think an interviewer wants you to be. Second, be prepared. Have examples ready to share of your past experiences that demonstrate you take initiative, are a leader, can accomplish goals you set or overcome challenges. Third, show you are interested in Pillsbury. Know about the firm and show you are interested in working there in particular as opposed to just wanting any job” – Mariah Brandt
The callback process varies by office, but usually the candidate will meet with three to five partners or associates for half hour interviews. The questions here tend to be similar to the OCI questions, meaning more competency-revealing conversations. Some callbacks also include lunch or coffee with attorneys.
Brandt pointed out: “If a candidate gets to the callback stage, the Firm has determined that their resume meets our criteria and the attorney who interviewed them on campus thought they would be a good fit for the Firm.”
Top tips for this stage: “A callback is the opportunity for the candidate to meet with other attorneys to give them a feel for who the candidate is and whether they would fit in and succeed at Pillsbury” – Mariah Brandt
Each office runs the summer program slightly differently, but all offices ensure that summers are getting exposure to different practice areas and have an appropriate amount of assignments: “Every year we tailor the number of summers in our summer classes so that there is room for and the expectation that each summer can get an offer.” Most summers return as junior associates: “Offers to join Pillsbury are not specific as to any particular practice area, but we make every effort to assign junior attorneys to the practice section of their choice."
Top tips for this stage: “Try to get as broad of exposure over the summer as possible. This is the time to get to know your future colleagues, as well as figure out who they work with best and what practice areas they would like to work in” – Mariah Brandt
And finally… “So much of applying to BigLaw is making sure you find a firm that, when you’re stuck working late nights, are the people you’re working with making it better?” – second-year associate
Interview with firm chair David Dekker
*Interview conducted in October 2021
Chambers Associate: How has the year gone? What have been the highlights?
David Dekker: From a financial perspective we’ve had an outstanding year. Our practices are generally busy across the board, and we’ve seen relatively high levels of demand, including the number of transactions taking place, such as SPACs, de-SPACS and mergers, which are all helping drive growth. We’re expecting a record year financially.
CA: Are there highlights from the past year or in the firm’s immediate future you think our readers should be aware about?
DD: I can highlight deals in various categories nominated as deals of the year. For example, a large M&A deal run by two women partners chosen as one of the leading M&A deals of 2021.
CA: Last year you spoke about the firm being a combination of equals, enforced by a no-home philosophy – is that still the case? What’s the rationale behind this?
DD: We continue to have a no principal office philosophy. Washington, DC is our largest office, but we don’t view DC as the headquarters, it just happens to be our largest office at present. In the U.S. we have a strategic focus on the two coasts plus Texas, as opposed to a single critical market.
CA: You mentioned last year about the pandemic changing the way you work in some respects but not changing the long-term strategy – perhaps you could speak to those changes?
DD: There will be long lasting changes in the way we work, but the pandemic has not changed our long-term strategies. We’re hoping for the pandemic to fade away, and that we can get people back to the office more frequently. But I’m confident we will work in more of a hybrid environment, where we expect most people to be in the office at least part time, but not five days a week. Perhaps three, with the understanding that it won’t be a one size fits all and we will take into account the needs of each office and group. Having people who work together generally be in the office at the same time is also important. It will be rare for us to authorize attorneys to never come in, but it could happen in exceptional cases. Overall, we still see significant advantages of people being face to face at least part time from a perspective of training, culture, client relationships, mentoring and connectivity. So in this sense there will be changes, but the pandemic has not materially changed the practices or geographic markets in which we want to grow.
CA: What are some of the lessons you’ve personally learnt from the pandemic?
DD: I have learned that we are able to work remotely more effectively than I guessed. We were able to transition to a nearly fully remote working environment very quickly, without losing significant efficiency. I would have expected a rougher transition, but that said, I am also starting to see some fraying around the edges of our culture and connectivity as we’re entering the 18-month mark of being remote. It’s begun to wear on our culture, and I am keen to see people back together. A hallmark of our firm is people liking each other, making lots of friends and working collaboratively with colleagues, and I fear that it’s not sustainable over Zoom cocktail parties, for example. Nor is the level of training and mentoring we desire. It will continue to be a learning experience on how to restructure, and give people more flexibility in their working lives, without losing the benefits of some face-to-face contact. Overall, I’m a great believer in an effective hybrid environment.
CA: You mentioned last year the challenge posed by elite firms pulling further and further away from the market, as well as the rise in ALSPs. Can you identify any other challenges the legal industry may face in the years ahead?
DD: We are in a battle for talent, as most firms are, and we’re examining how “do we better recruit and retain top talent going forward?” We’re a service firm, and we are looking to recruit and retain the best talent. I think the pandemic has made some people reexamine their careers and whether they want to commit to the demands imposed by any large law firm, and reexamine what they want their work life balance to be. These are all legitimate questions, which are challenges for us and all law firms to answer effectively going forward. Also, the ongoing challenge of the number of firms competing for the highest level legal work. Only some firms will thrive in that competition, not in terms of going out of business, but in maintaining the ability to stay among the elite firms, continuing to grow and getting the most challenging assignments from clients. It’s an ongoing battle, exacerbated in this environment.
CA: Can you tell us a little more about the $11 million the firm committed to social justice initiatives last year (2020)? What material impact has that had?
DD: We’ve always had a vibrant pro bono program, and a foundation called the Pillsbury Foundation for Charitable Giving, but last year we made decision to increase the level of giving and the amount of pro bono work we were doing. It has been successful; we’re on track to meet and far exceed the target we set of $11 million in additional contributions over three years. We’ve seen both charitable giving and pro bono numbers tracking up substantially. Just one example of a new program is called Boss Labs. It’s designed to help people of color who perhaps have been denied access to capital in traditional markets or faced other hurdles. In 2021, we set a goal of identifying 50 startups we could help get going, and as of today we are close to 30. We continue to look for opportunities to help diverse individuals who are looking to start new ventures find the path to successful growth.
CA: What do the next five years look like for the firm?
DD: I am very confident about the next five years. We have been on a very good financial trajectory, alongside other metrics we track, such as diversity. There’s lots of positive energy within the firm. I still think we’re thin in some strategic areas where we’d like to be deeper, so one of the challenges coming out the pandemic for us is to grow and become deeper in some key practices and markets, which I think we will be in less than five years.
Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP
31 West 52nd Street,
- Head Office: New York, NY
- Number of domestic offices: 13
- Number of international offices: 6
- Worldwide revenue: $781,406,000
- Partners (US): 290
- Associates (US): 205
- Main recruitment contact: Charles Curtis, Firmwide Senior Director of Attorney Recruiting (email@example.com)
- Hiring partner: Mariah Brandt
- Diversity officer: Rosa Walker, Senior Director of Diversity and Inclusion
- Recruitment details
- Entry-level associates starting in 2022: 37
- Clerking policy: Yes
- Summers joining/anticipated 2022: 46
- Summers joining/anticipated split by office:
- Austin 4; Houston 4; Los Angeles 5; Miami 1; New York 9; Sacramento 1; San Francisco 5; Silicon Valley 5; Northern Virginia 3; Washington DC 9
- Summer salary 2022:
- 1Ls: $4,135/week
- 2Ls: $4,135/week
- Split summers offered? No
- Can summers spend time in an overseas office? Case-by-case
Main areas of work
Regulatory: Whether working with a startup, a company in growth mode or a market leader, Pillsbury’s lawyers help companies limit risk, achieve compliance, defend against investigations, advocate for new laws and challenge restrictions.
Litigation: Pillsbury’s litigators handle complex commercial cases, matters of public interest, intellectual property challenges, tax controversies, insurance policyholder disputes, environmental claims, securities class actions, construction disputes and a wide variety of other assignments.
Business: Pillsbury’s business teams partner with clients to help find capital, organize new companies, secure patents, purchase real estate, negotiate contracts, challenge competitors, guide investments, protect data, limit liability, outsource support services, minimize taxes, establish policies and expand markets.
Antonin Scalia Law School (George Mason); UC Berkeley School of Law; Brooklyn Law School; Columbia Law School; Davis School of Law; Duke University School of Law; Florida International University College of Law; Fordham University School of Law; George Washington University Law School; Georgetown University Law School; Harvard Law School; UC Hastings College of Law; The Maurice A. Deane School of Law at Hofstra University; Howard University School of Law; Loyola Law School; McGeorge School of Law; University of Miami School of Law; University of Michigan Law School; Northwestern Pritzker School of Law; New York University School of Law; University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School; Santa Clara University School of Law; Stanford Law School; St. John's University School of Law; University of Texas School of Law; Thurgood Marshall School of Law; UC Irvine School of Law; UCLA School of Law; USC Gould School of Law; University of Virginia School of Law; William & Mary Law School.
Recruitment outside OCIs:
Bay Area Diversity Fair; Cornell DC Fair; Lavender Law; Loyola Chicago (Patent); MABLSA; West Coast BLSA; Vanderbilt Fair; National Law Consortium DC Summer associate profile: Pillsbury seeks energetic, high-performing students who possess sound judgment, determination, common sense, excellent interpersonal skills, the ability to inspire confidence and the drive to produce high quality work and achieve outstanding results.
Summer program components:
Pillsbury’s summer associates experience the firm’s collaborative style by working side-by-side with attorneys in a variety of practice areas, on industry and client teams and on issue-specific projects. Pillsbury University offers training on everything from legal writing to client service basics to effective networking. Formal reviews supplement the extemporaneous feedback provided to summer associates by our lawyers.
Linkedin: Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP
This Firm's Rankings in
USA Guide, 2022
- Antitrust (Band 3)
- Construction (Band 1)
- Environment (Band 4)
- Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations (Band 5)
- Tax: State & Local (Band 1)
- Venture Capital (Band 3)
California: Los Angeles & Surrounds
- Corporate/M&A: Highly Regarded (Band 1)
- Real Estate (Band 3)
- Tax (Band 3)
California: San Francisco, Silicon Valley & Surro
- Corporate/M&A: Highly Regarded (Band 1)
- Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation (Band 3)
- Real Estate (Band 4)
District of Columbia
- Construction (Band 1)
- Environment (Band 4)
- Insurance: Policyholder (Band 2)
- Litigation: General Commercial: Highly Regarded (Band 3)
- Media & Entertainment: Regulatory (Band 2)
- Technology & Outsourcing (Band 1)
- Telecom, Broadcast & Satellite (Band 4)
- Corporate/M&A: Highly Regarded (Band 5)
- Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations: Highly Regarded (Band 2)
- Outsourcing (Band 3)
- Technology (Band 3)
- Insurance (Band 3)
- Intellectual Property (Band 5)
- Technology: Outsourcing (Band 2)
USA - Nationwide
- Climate Change (Band 4)
- Construction (Band 2)
- Corporate/M&A: Highly Regarded (Band 5)
- E-Discovery & Information Governance (Band 4)
- Energy: Electricity (Finance) (Band 2)
- Energy: Nuclear (Regulatory & Litigation) (Band 1)
- Environment (Band 4)
- Food & Beverages: Alcohol (Band 1)
- Government Contracts: The Elite (Band 3)
- Government Relations: Federal (Band 3)
- Insurance: Dispute Resolution: Policyholder (Band 3)
- International Trade: CFIUS Experts (Band 4)
- International Trade: Export Controls & Economic Sanctions: The Elite (Band 3)
- International Trade: Trade Remedies & Trade Policy (Band 4)
- Leisure & Hospitality (Band 4)
- Outsourcing (Band 1)
- Political Law (Band 5)
- Retail (Band 3)
- Startups & Emerging Companies (Band 4)
- Technology (Band 3)
- Transportation: Aviation: Finance (Band 2)
- Transportation: Aviation: Regulatory (Band 1)
- Corporate/M&A (Band 2)
- Intellectual Property (Band 1)
- Real Estate (Band 3)