Pillsbury isn’t a bitter firm to swallow for those who want to work with clients across a spread of industries – from energy and tech to finance and real estate.
Why did you choose Pillsbury? “I felt good vibes during the interview process.” If the use of the word ‘vibes’ wasn’t enough of a giveaway, this firm has a significant California presence, with six of its 14 domestic offices located in the Golden State. But don’t be fooled by the relaxed review. Pillsbury is no stranger to being at the forefront of ground-breaking technologies, whether it was registering the first trademark for a dotcom in the 90s, or helping AT&T’s predecessor set up some of the first telephone lines back in the 1800s. Associates told us this “theme of innovation” continues today: “Last Friday we were told that Pillsbury has a new hydrogen practice.”
“Theme of innovation.”
Pillsbury holds 13 nationwide rankings to its name in Chambers USA, with top billing for its outsourcing and regulatory aviation work. Its nuclear practice is also highly ranked – energy is one of the firm’s key sectors. Construction is another, and Pillsbury scoops top accolades in this area in California and DC. DC is where you’ll find the firm’s largest office – about a third of junior associates were based there. A similar number were spread between the six California offices, while NewYork took around ten. The Austin, Houston and Northern Virginia offices also housed a small number of associates.
During the summer program, associates are “encouraged to explore” different practice areas. They then submit three choices and the firm assigns them a practice area “based on your choices and business need.” While not everyone was “immediately able to join the practice they wanted,” we heard the firm was willing to let people move later. More than a third of junior associates join the firm as litigators, just under a fifth go to corporate and securities, and the rest are spread evenly between an assortment of groups, including energy, public policy, finance and real estate.
Most groups use a free-market system for work allocation, though interviewees suggested this allowed them to highlight the type of matters they were interested in, rather than pick and choose exactly what they wanted. “I’ll reach out or someone will ask if I’ve got the bandwidth,” a San Francisco junior explained, while a DC source shared that “when I need work, I risk opening the floodgates!”
Pillsbury’s litigation practice is an umbrella group that handles white-collar and criminal defense, complex commercial litigation, contract disputes, trusts litigation and “a lot of aircraft finance-related litigation.” Juniors also told us there’s litigation work available with the firm’s multidisciplinary China team, which works with Chinese clients on outbound investments, as well as foreign investors doing business in the region (five of Pillsbury’s six overseas offices are in the Asia-Pacific region). On top of all of that, we also heard Pillsbury is building up its arbitration practice. With all this on the go, it’s no surprise that the firm likes to “cultivate generalists” among the litigation ranks. As with other departments, “projects are leanly staffed. Sometimes it’s just one or two partners, and I’m the only associate, even as a first-year.” For one happy interviewee, being on small teams meant “I’ve only been staffed on one big doc review matter. All the other matters have been legal research and drafting.”
Litigation: PBF Energy, Clark Construction, Silicon Valley Bank, e-cigarette company JUUL Labs. Acted for Bay Area Motivate (a bike-share company) after it sued San Francisco because it allowed other companies to operate in the city, violating an agreement that Motivate would exclusively fund the city’s bike-share program.
“It’s crazy that I’m technically a second-year, but recently I was the primary associate for drafting and revising a security agreement.”
On the transactional side, the firm handles M&A, private equity and securities deals (mostly on the underwriter side). Pillsbury does a lot of energy-related work, but sources confirmed “there’s a pretty decent spread” of clients in other industries such as tech companies and financial institutions. “We have clients in consumer products and in business-enterprise software,” associates added. Pillsbury also handles a lot of deals in Asia out of the LA, San Francisco, Silicon Valley and New York offices. While a lot of transactional work at a junior level in BigLaw tends to be project management, sources said at Pillsbury juniors could expect a lot of responsibility. “It’s crazy that I’m technically a second-year, but recently I was the primary associate for drafting and revising a security agreement,” one source gushed. Another elaborated that “depending on the size of the team on a deal, I’ll get more or less work. I’d say that I started with doing junior tasks, but there’s also a lot of drafting.” Associates also enjoyed a fair bit of client contact, “with relatively minimal supervision.”
Corporate clients: tech company Foursquare, genetic research company Genomic Health, Japanese entertainment company Amuse. Represented WestJet Airlines in its $3.7 billion acquisition by funds connected to investment manager Onex Corporation.
All of the firm’s regulatory groups are housed under the ‘public practices’ umbrella. Juniors described this group as “unique in that the new associates are ‘floater’ associates” – instead of joining a specific subgroup, like trade, public policy or government contracts, newbies ‘float’ between the different strands of work on offer. This is because “the small sections don’t typically have enough work for a full-time associate” (one exception is the trade group, “but you need experience to work there”). As a result there was “a lot of cross-section work” for juniors here, and our interviewees had got their hands on “a little bit of everything,” from “drafting to doc review” to preparing exhibits for arbitrations. But “it’s not just typical junior associate work,” one clarified. “In other cases, I’ve drafted half of the briefs.”
Public policy clients: EDF Renewables, Sussex Royal Foundation, Yoga Alliance, cybersecurity company FireEye. The firm recently advised the Government of Kosovo on the country’s relationship with the US and peace negotiations with Serbia.
Strategy & Future
Moving forward, firm chair David Dekker says Pillsbury will continue “to build out our current platform, adding or subtracting a city as needed.” Despite the disruption of the pandemic, “at this point, we are substantially up year-on-year in terms of profitability,” he says. “If you assume collection cycles remain the same as last year we’ll have a banner year.” Pillsbury’s global revenue tends to tick up every year, and 2020 was no different: turnover went up by 6.8% and surpassed the $700 million mark. For more from Dekker, go to the Bonus Features tab.
Career Development & Culture
“The firm has recently changed the way it mentors,” our sources revealed. Where juniors were previously assigned a mentor, partners and senior associates now sign up “voluntarily to be a mentor," and the firm tries to pair juniors with someone who matches their work interests. Juniors praised the new system, explaining that it allows associates and partners “to tailor their mentoring to your specific interests, as well as non-work issues like being a working parent, or work/life balance.” Overall, sources agreed the firm “wants to keep people, and is very invested in training people.” First-year associates can put 150 hours of training toward the billing target, for example.
“I made connections quickly. People weren’t afraid to reach out to me.”
This attitude to retention meant “it’s not a competitive environment” at Pillsbury. “I have made fast friends with some of my colleagues,” said one. In fact, associates across the board indicated “a friendly culture.” Give us a dollar for every time we’ve heard this at Chambers Associate, and we’d rival Pillsbury for its year-on-year revenue growth. But in this instance, juniors were quick to follow up with examples. “I made connections quickly,” said one. “People weren’t afraid to reach out to me.” Others appreciated working with friendly partners, and several people noted that the firm understands that “it’s important that I’m a person outside the firm.” For example, “if you were staying up to 3am every day, someone would ask ‘What’s wrong?!’”
Hours & Compensation
In terms of working hours though, sources warned “you’re going to have late nights.The reality of BigLaw is that it can be hard when there’s a lot of work coming in.” The average working week for Pillsbury associates was a little over 50 hours.
Billable hours: 1,950 target
Several sources reckoned they were “not going to hit 1,950 required for a bonus.” But we didn’t hear from anyone who was overly worried. “You need to be trying to meet the target,” they said, “but if you don’t, you’re not going to be penalized.” Sources were further reassured by the impression that around half of associates meet the target. At the beginning of 2020, Pillsbury matched the Milbank scale with salaries, which was welcome news to juniors.
“Increasing recruiting from historically diverse colleges.”
Diversity & Pro Bono
“My summer class was really diverse,” one source told us. “Loads of women, lots of ethnic diversity, some moms (or nearly moms), and a decent number of people identifying as LGBTQ+.” Associates were encouraged by what they saw, but of course “it’s BigLaw, so it absolutely has to do more.” Currently, they observed the firm is “increasing recruiting from historically diverse colleges.” In its most recent recruitment cycle, the firm conducted OCIs and made offers to candidates from four such schools. Howard is a staple OCI school for Pillsbury; this year it also attended Texas Southern Thurgood School of Law, University of Miami, and Florida International University. Associates told us the firm recently pledged $11 million to diversity initiatives over the next three years, including funding for “pro bono work to clients who wouldn’t otherwise receive legal service.”
As part of this initiative, firm chair David Dekker says the firm “decided to look for additional opportunities for our lawyers and for non-lawyers to participate.” Conscious of the fact that pro bono work tends to be litigation-heavy, “we asked how we might create other pro bono opportunities,” says Dekker. “We’ve come up with a couple of different ways.” One of those initiatives is the Black-Owned Startup Support Lab (aka BOSS Lab),which will see the firm’s emerging growth and venture capital teams providing legal services for up to 50 black-owned startups. Dekker says the initiative “provides an opportunity for people to come together and to give them a common purpose toward social equality and social justice goals.” Associates can bill 300 hours of pro bono toward their annual target.
Pro bono hours
- For all (US) attorneys: 36,570
- Average per (US) attorney: 57
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
Chambers Associate: How would you describe the firm’s market position in three sentences or less?
We focus on practicing in elite legal and financial markets and competing for the highest level of work in those markets. Some firms want to compete in middle market locations, but we focus, in the US, on elite legal markets on the two coasts plus Texas, and we also have offices in several international markets (UK, Japan and China).
CA: The firm was built up on the West Coast, but now the biggest office is in DC. How did that come about?
We’ve adopted a no-home-office philosophy. In the US we have offices in six of the top eleven legal markets, but have also grown offices that are supportive of the industries on which we focus. So, for example, our San Diego and Silicon Valley offices are mostly focused on technology, and Austin and Northern Virginia also have a significant focus on technology. The firm, in its current incarnation, is the result of a merger of several firms [Pillsbury Madison, Winthrop Stimson, and Shaw Pittman] and that’s highlighted by the no-home philosophy. We’re a combination of equals. The fact that DC has grown bigger is not by design, it’s just how the work has developed.
CA: What is the greatest challenge facing the firm in the next decade? How about the legal market more generally?
There is a group of firms that is getting larger and stronger financially and by some measures pulling away from the pack in terms of financial performance and capturing elite work. To remain in that group, we’ll have to find ways to grow despite the fact that demand in the legal industry has been relatively flat over much of the last decade. There are a number of firms trying to be part of that group. So, there’s the competitive challenge between large firms. In addition, increasingly there are non-traditional sources of competition. Alternative legal-services providers (ALSPs) have come into the market, and the Big 4 increasingly look to compete, so now there’s also competition from sources other than traditional law firms.
CA: It's been suggested that to meet this challenge, there are two options: either becoming a boutique firm, or rapid expansion. What route do you think Pillsbury will adopt?
Being a boutique firm is not an option for us given our diversity of practices and number of offices. For us, rapid expansion is also not our choice, if that means bolting on offices in a number of new locations. There’s another option: we’ve chosen to focus on building out our current platform, perhaps adding or subtracting an office, but with more focus on growing our existing offices and practices.
CA: The firm recently started a hydrogen energy practice. Could you tell us a bit more about that?
We were the first firm to announce it, but, from what we can tell, several firms have been looking at the potential of hydrogen. The world is looking for alternative energy sources to help move away from fossil fuels, and hydrogen is plentiful and clean-burning, so we suspect you’ll see much more focus on it.
CA: How has the firm weathered the pandemic? Has the pandemic affected the firm’s long-term strategy?
At this point, we are substantially up year-on-year in terms of profitability. We’ve had higher revenue, and lower costs, which is a good combination. If you assume collection cycles remain the same as last year, we’ll have a banner year. The pandemic will change the way we work in some respects but has not changed our long-term strategy.
CA: Does the firm have any set targets with regards to diversity?
We’ve pledged $11 million to social justice initiatives. We’ve always had a commitment to social justice. We’re not unique: many businesses recognize the imperative of doing more, but we believe law firms are uniquely placed to assist in that process. There is a lot of interest within our population to help. So, we decided to look for additional opportunities for our lawyers and non-lawyers to participate. We also looked for ways that non-litigators could be more actively involved. We’ve always encouraged pro bono, but the truth is that litigation has always driven pro bono. So, we considered how we might create other pro bono opportunities. We’ve come up with a couple of different ways. One of those we call BOSS Labs (Black Owned Start-up Support Labs) to assist black-owned start-ups, which historically have had limited access to funding. It’s an opportunity for transactional attorneys to help make a difference. The $11 million commitment to social justice initiatives was the right thing to do – period – but it also provides an opportunity for people in the firm in all different roles to come together with a common purpose of advancing social justice.
We are also committed to increasing our own diversity. We have set a number of relatively aggressive internal goals. Our Board of Directors is now 58% diverse, and our top executives are 60% diverse.
Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP
31 West 52nd Street,
- Head Office: New York, NY
- Number of domestic offices: 14
- Number of international offices: 6
- Worldwide revenue: $723,452,000
- Partners (US): 294
- Associates (US): 198
- Main recruitment contact: Charles Curtis, Firmwide Director of Attorney Recruiting (firstname.lastname@example.org)
- Hiring partner: Mariah Brandt
- Diversity officer: Rosa Walker, Director of Diversity and Inclusion
- Recruitment details
- Entry-level associates starting in 2021: 30
- Clerking policy: Yes
- Summers joining/anticipated 2021: 45
- Summers joining/anticipated split by office:
- Austin 4; Houston 3; Los Angeles 5; Miami 1; New York 11; Sacramento 1; San Francisco 5; Silicon Valley 5; Northern Virginia 2; Washington DC 8
- Summer salary 2021:
- 1Ls: $3,654/week
- 2Ls: $3,654/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.
UC Berkeley School of Law; Brooklyn Law School; University of Chicago Law School; Columbia Law School; Duke University School of Law; Fordham University School of Law; Florida International University College 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; McGill University Faculty 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.
Recruitment outside OCIs:
Cornell DC and NY Fairs; Lavender Law; Loyola Chicago (Patent); MABLSA; Penn Law Regional Interview Program; 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 sideby- 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, 2021
- Antitrust (Band 3)
- Construction (Band 1)
- Environment (Band 4)
- 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)
District of Columbia
- Construction (Band 1)
- Environment (Band 4)
- Insurance: Policyholder (Band 2)
- Litigation: General Commercial: Highly Regarded (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 1)
- Outsourcing (Band 2)
- Technology (Band 2)
- Insurance (Band 3)
- Technology: Corporate & Commercial (Band 3)
- Technology: Outsourcing (Band 2)
USA - Nationwide
- Construction (Band 2)
- E-Discovery & Information Governance (Band 4)
- Energy: Electricity (Finance) (Band 1)
- Energy: Nuclear (Regulatory & Litigation) (Band 1)
- Environment (Band 4)
- Food & Beverages: Alcohol (Band 1)
- Government Contracts: The Elite (Band 3)
- Government Relations (Band 3)
- Insurance: Dispute Resolution: Policyholder (Band 3)
- International Trade: CFIUS Experts (Band 4)
- International Trade: Export Controls & Economic Sanctions (Band 3)
- International Trade: Trade Remedies & Trade Policy (Band 4)
- Outsourcing (Band 1)
- Retail (Band 2)
- Startups & Emerging Companies (Band 4)
- Technology (Band 4)
- Transportation: Aviation: Finance (Band 3)
- Transportation: Aviation: Regulatory (Band 1)
- Corporate/M&A (Band 2)
- Intellectual Property (Band 1)