For the BigLaw experience with a little extra Californication thrown in, check out the Golden State native with 24-carat culture.
THERE'S clearly something special about California – why else would the Red Hot Chili Peppers have written approximately twelve thousand songs about it? Law firms based in America’s most populous state often carry a ‘laid-back’ reputation compared to their East Coast counterparts, and conversations with Pillsbury’s juniors lead us to think there might be something in the stereotype. “It’s a very accepting and warm environment where everybody’s collaborative,” they agreed. That doesn’t mean attorneys don’t work hard here, and a firm doesn’t earn 15 nationwide Chambers USA rankings without some hard graft.
Though Pillsbury has roots in the Golden State and 40% of junior associates can be found in its six California bases, the firm’s largest office is actually in DC and it earns its most impressive accolades there including top prizes for construction, technology and outsourcing. New York and North Virginia also take a sizable associate class each year. Chairman David Dekker explains that the firm’s “committed to maintaining a wide range of practices,” which was reflected in our sample of juniors – spread over 13 different practice groups across 11 cities in which Pillsbury has an office. Dekker points out that “demand has been up substantially,” with the firm bringing in a record $645 million turnover in 2018 thanks partly to growth in tech and financial services; they smashed the record again in 2019 with $677 million in revenue.
Strategy & Future
Pillsbury keeps associates up to date with the firm’s future plans via an annual firmwide video conference with Dekker. He reveals a push to grow the private equity practice: “We’ve always done some of that work, but believed we had potential to do more, so we made several lateral hires at the associate, counsel and partner level." Geographically, there are no plans to branch put into other jurisdictions anytime soon: “We’re looking to grow our presence in [existing] locations, rather than opening up in numerous additional cities,” Dekker confirms.
“We’ve always done some of that work, but believed we had potential to do more.”
Litigation recruits more juniors than any other department; corporate and securities is a close runner-up; real estate, IP and tax are the most popular of the alternatives. Most of these groups run a free market work allocation system so associates can tailor their practice, though many partners quickly identify “go-to associates.” There’s a downside to this relationship-based approach – “work can be scarce” when associates’ preferred partners take vacation and “there’s no centralized system at Pillsbury to make sure everyone is appropriately busy.” In New York a litigation partner has taken up the mantle of local assignment coordinator; “he asks us to outline our availability every quarter, but not everything is staffed through him.” Corporate associates have pushed for an equivalent but nothing’s been set up yet.
Corporate work ranges from international M&A transactions to securities deals, representing underwriters for the most part. Pharmaceutical and bioengineering companies make up a chunk of the clientele; sources in North Virginia were keen to declare that Pillsbury is “up and coming in the tech space.” The word from DC was that cross-office collaboration is common and popular, and juniors were happy with the responsibility levels on offer. “I’m the relationship associate for at least a dozen clients and I’ve run entire deals with partner oversight only when needed,” one declared. “It’s usually just a partner and me so in terms of coordination, I make sure the deal happens.” Other typical junior roles include liaising with auditors and taking the first crack at drafting underwriting agreements.
Corporate clients: Delta Electronics, Salarius Pharmaceuticals, Nando’s. Advised e-cigarette business JUUL during its $12.8 billion investment by tobacco giant Altria.
“I’ve run entire deals with partner oversight only when needed.”
General commercial litigation is matter-of-course in New York and Los Angeles. Associates described the practice as “relatively predictable because you know the exact moments for potential settlement, but slightly less exciting than our white-collar practice, which involves more gray areas and is more fast-moving.” Juniors can also bite into insurance disputes in the Big Apple, including “recovery work for industry giants but also smaller companies.” Over in San Francisco, the firm’s built a powerful reputation for construction litigation and has a growing contentious IP practice. “I was able to really take the lead in developing our strategy for one case – I also supervised a first-year and paralegal,” revealed a litigator. Another enjoyed regular contact with a client’s GC, and interviewees generally got stuck into drafting preliminary injunctions, appellate briefs and motions to dismiss plus “granular research into the language of contracts.” Doc review might get a bad rep, but one source ended up “really surprised by how much I enjoy it. You learn a lot of detail about the case so the team relies on you when they start forming arguments, and it’s a super easy way to build up your billables.”
Litigation clients: San Diego Comic Convention, Travel Centers of America, projects firm AECOM Hunt. Counsel to Zero-Gravity Holdings in a dispute over its agreement with the Russian national space agency to fly a billionaire around the moon.
Hours & Compensation
Billable hours: 1,950 target
There was some confusion among sources on what counts as billable: one in Los Angeles stressed that associates “have no control over workflow” and during slow periods it’s unlikely you’ll meet the requirement. “I worked 500 hours on a matter but it turned out it wasn’t billable,” another revealed. Periods of record firm growth might be exciting but they come with long hours: in New York there were associates who’d “only got three hours sleep for a few days” in busy stretches, though folks there pointed out that “there are times when everything happens at once and you can’t do much about it – that’s why they call it BigLaw.” The New York office is piloting a ‘Pillsbury Anywhere’ flexible working program and setting up equipment at associates’ homes so they can work remotely twice a week. San Francisco and DC already have less-than-stringent facetime requirements.
“There are times when everything happens at once and you can’t do much about it – that’s why they call it BigLaw.”
Pillsbury announced in 2020 that it would match the market with $190,000 base pay for first-years and the standard subsequent annual uplifts. At the time of our research in late 2019, the firm sat just below with an $180,000 starting salary, and our associate interviewees had feared for what this could mean in future recruiting rounds: “Big firms are pretty darn similar so why would you go somewhere that pays less?” Interviewees were additionally disappointed given record revenue levels and noted that “the firm still expects us to bill crazy hours: I’m predicted to hit 2,700 this year.” After attempting to smooth things over with a supplemental bonus to bridge the gap, Pillsbury opted for a full match.
There’s a 50 hour pro bono target for all attorneys, but it’s not strictly enforced according to juniors. A 300 hour cap on pro bono counting toward billables is also relatively flexible as associates can request to be excepted. Pillsbury has a firmwide coordinator to assign work, with flexibility to bring in your own cases. “The committee has to make sure it’s pro bono, but they’ll definitely approve it.” If you’re stuck for ideas, DC has close ties with a local children’s law center and commonly brings in landlord/tenant, domestic violence and tax exemption for veterans organizations cases. Los Angeles attorneys often work on asylum and unified school district matters, while expungement is common in SanFrancisco. The DC and New York offices are known for clemency pro bono and a junior who got involved felt “very fortunate to be able to devote so much time to it.”
Pro bono hours
- For all US attorneys: 32,456
- Average per US attorney: 52
Diversity & Inclusion
“We definitely put an emphasis on gender diversity. There’s already a 50:50 split in the corporate group,”reported a DC interviewee, who also mentioned that “most folks here are parents so having a family is definitely supported.” This isn’t the only success story: in 2020 the New York incoming associate class will be mostly female. There’s less gender parity at partner level but recent promotion rounds have included good numbers of women, “which is a tangible result of the firm’s initiative to advance female attorneys.” Insiders commented that racial diversity is still lacking. Pillsbury runs a cross-office Attorneys of Color Conference including workshops and networking events and there are annual summits for different groups within the firm.
“...a tangible result of the firm’s initiative to advance female attorneys.”
The LGBTQ group recently held a multi-office conference in DC and this year’s annual Pillsbury Pride Coming Out Day event in New York (and live-streamed across the firm) featured a Q&A with Gay Like Me author Richie Jackson. A potential area for improvement is general wellbeing resources for all attorneys, which currently consist of “posters about looking after yourself” and free weekly half-hour meditation sessions. The firm is moving into the future and considering alternative means of being inclusive: one interviewee mentioned that the firm recently removed beer from its kitchens “out of sensitivity for anyone with substance abuse issues.”
Culture & Career Development
Sensitivity seems to be in the air at Pillsbury. A Silicon Valley associate enthused: “I love my office culture; the general vibe and the people are phenomenal.” Over in New York there isn’t a dress code and “some people are preppy while others wear suspenders over shirts with three different stripes and a bow tie. We have unique people you wouldn’t come across everyday, we all brings our own flair which you don’t see at other firms.” San Francisco attorneys “bounce ideas off each other even if the other person isn’t involved in the case,” although “there’s not a whole lot going on socially.” That’s not true of DC, where the office has a “beautiful” rooftop “so we do all our events up there because it’s so nice.” Los Angeles recently hosted a ‘Pillsbury Picnic’ and New York organizes a carefully named annual Christmas ‘Secret-Non-Denominational Gift Exchange’. Catchy. Practice groups here have monthly lunches, though sources made sure we understood “we’re not really divided into different groups, we’re just individuals practicing law.”
Further feedback from Silicon Valley revealed that “partners really mentor juniors. On a Friday night recently, a partner ran me through things to change on my LinkedIn – they think about how to develop us rather than just get work out of us.” New arrivals are assigned a formal partner and mid or senior associate mentor, “many folks find informal ones too.” More senior laterals tend to only need a partner mentor. Mentors help associates understand how staffing and billing works, with the overarching theme of “BigLaw is BigBusiness.” The firm pays for associate-mentor lunches and because discussions here are confidential, fledgling lawyers can “ask stuff you typically wouldn’t ask a partner, like how they bill.” Attorneys are also encouraged to go to networking events like the M&A in Government Contracting conference for DC and Nashville corporate attorneys.
“People here are very accepting of each other, there isn’t a single mold.”
Pillsbury organizes thorough associate training: “whenever there’s an update to the law we have a CLE on it,” and the firm runs events like a recent two-day contract drafting seminar in New York for second to fourth years. The internal talent development group publishes class-year benchmarks “so you can draw on them to advocate for a certain type of experience if you’re not getting it.” We heard that “mid-year check-ins are surprisingly valuable – partners really put thought into the meeting beforehand and give really good ideas for how you can shape your practice, which I really appreciate.” Because associates work directly with partners, they “get feedback throughout the year and don’t have to wait for it to be passed down.” When we asked what makes Pillsbury unique, almost all our interviewees answered along these lines: “People here are very accepting of each other, there isn’t a single mold. People always have time for you no matter what level you’re at.”
The first stage: recruitment on and off campus
OCI applicants interviewed: undisclosed
Interviewees outside OCI: 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
Applicants invited to second stage interview: 419
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: Have there been any changes in the type or volume of work the firm is doing?
DD: In 2019, a number of our practices were busy, but litigation was extraordinarily busy, as was transactional work in the tech industry, and several regulatory practices. In terms of changes, we’ve always done some private equity work, but believed we had potential to do more, so we made several lateral hires at the associate, counsel and partner level. We have seen a real uptick in PE work. We have the expertise to undertake M&A and other corporate work in the area, and have substantive practices, like nuclear and government contracts, which can be beneficial to private equity firms. In general, demand has been up substantially this year, so we’re optimistic that we’ll meet or exceed revenue growth targets.
CA: How would you describe the firm’s current position in the market?
DD: We’re a firm that’s focused on servicing clients in leading legal and financial markets. We’re currently in six of the top 11 legal markets in the US, plus London, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Taipei, Beijing and Tokyo. We’re looking to grow our presence in those locations, rather than opening up in numerous additional cities. We’re also committed to maintaining a relatively wide range of practices. We don’t look to limit our offering to three to five practice areas, like some other firms that only want to grow the most profitable practices to the exclusion of others.
CA: How do you think the profession has changed since you started practicing?
DD: To state the obvious, technology has certainly changed how we practice. Everyone can see that. Email, AI, and so on. That’s apparent. In addition, the amount of information about law firms that’s publicly available, and the willingness of partners to jump between firms is a big change. When I started out, firms had their reputations, but their finances weren’t all over the internet, and partners weren’t moving around like baseball free agents. The combination of these factors has increased the pressure on everyone who works in BigLaw.
CA: What are the main challenges law firms and their lawyers are currently facing?
DD: There are numerous challenges. Relatively flat demand is one. There is certainly a more diverse range of competitors now compared to a decade ago. Whether it’s alternative legal service providers or the Big Four, they’re attempting, and in some areas succeeding in capturing more market share. This is particularly true with respect to services that are repetitive and lower in cost. For example, M&A due diligence and various litigation related services. We are looking for ways of providing those services at a lower cost, to remain competitive in connection with all aspects of major litigation and deals.
CA: Why is law an attractive profession for students to join today?
DD: It’s intellectually challenging, which in turn means that generally it’s interesting and stimulating. Law degrees also provide an entré in to a number of different careers: you can work for a firm, or for yourself, or go into business, or work for government. There are diverse subjects to learn and challenges to overcome. It’s a career that provides not only a good living, but the benefit of meeting many interesting people and facing a wide variety of challenges.
CA: When did you decide to become a lawyer? Why?
DD: I went to law school thinking that practicing law wasn’t something I’d want to do for my entire life. I saw it as training that would provide a range of different opportunities, and that I could end up in business, academia or government. Even though I have remained with law firms, I could have taken a different path at various points in my career, and having those options was important to me when I was in school.
CA: Have you always practiced the same type of law?
DD: I’ve always been a litigator, but the focus of my practice and the clients I work with has changed substantially over time. Early on I was doing a fair bit of securities litigation, followed by ERISA-related work and then construction and insurance recovery. Those aren’t closely related, other than the common thread of litigation.
CA: What achievement are you most proud of?
DD: Before I joined Pillsbury, I was with two firms that went bankrupt. Even though I wasn’t involved in management, I’m proud that with both firms I hung in there until the end and helped make sure that as many people as possible had jobs to move to. I also made sure that I personally created the biggest ‘lifeboat’ possible, so I could move a team of attorneys, paralegals and secretaries with me. Minimizing the adverse impact of the insolvency on people I care for. Fortunately, our clients moved with us, and while I’ve transitioned those clients to colleagues, for the most part they’re still working with us, and our team has stayed together.
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?
DD: Find something you enjoy doing early on, if possible, but don’t be afraid to make changes until you do. You spend a lot of time in this job, and different people enjoy different aspects of law, both in terms of the substantive area and what activities they enjoy. For example, some people love walking into court, while others never want to see a courtroom. Most careers evolve over the years either because of client demands, or just because you decide there are aspects of your practice you like more and less. Embrace an evolution of your practice, don’t fear it.
Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP
- Head Office: New York, NY
- Number of domestic offices: 14
- Number of international offices: 5
- Worldwide revenue: $677,300,000
- Partners (US): 291
- Associates (US): 203
- 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 2020: 25
- Clerking policy: Yes
- Summers joining/anticipated 2020:
- 2Ls: 38
- Summers joining/anticipated 2020 split by office:
- Austin: 2; Houston: 1; LA: 5; Miami: 1; NYC: 10; San Francisco: 5; Silicon Valley: 4; Northern Virginia: 2; DC: 7
- Summer salary 2020:
- 1Ls: $3,958/week
- 2Ls: $3,958/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.
University of California, Berkeley; University of California, Hastings; University of California, Irvine; University of California, Los Angeles; University of Chicago; Brooklyn; Columbia; Duke; Fordham; George Mason; George Washington; Georgetown; Harvard; Hofstra; Howard University; Loyola Law School; University of Michigan; Northwestern; New York University; University of Pennsylvania; Santa Clara; Stanford; University of Southern California; University of Texas; University of Virginia
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, 2020
- Construction (Band 1)
- Environment (Band 3)
- Venture Capital (Band 3)
- Tax (Band 3)
District of Columbia
- Construction (Band 1)
- Environment (Band 4)
- Insurance: Policyholder (Band 2)
- Technology & Outsourcing (Band 1)
- Telecom, Broadcast & Satellite (Band 5)
- Technology & Outsourcing (Band 2)
- Insurance (Band 3)
- Technology: Corporate & Commercial (Band 3)
- Technology: Outsourcing (Band 3)
USA - Nationwide
- Construction (Band 2)
- Energy: Nuclear (Regulatory & Litigation) (Band 2)
- Environment (Band 4)
- Food & Beverages: Alcohol (Band 2)
- Government Contracts (Band 3)
- Government Relations (Band 3)
- Insurance: Dispute Resolution: Policyholder (Band 4)
- International Trade: Export Controls & Economic Sanctions (Band 3)
- Outsourcing (Band 1)
- Retail (Band 2)
- Startups & Emerging Companies (Band 4)
- Transportation: Aviation: Finance (Band 3)
- Transportation: Aviation: Regulatory (Band 1)
- Corporate/M&A (Band 2)
- Intellectual Property (Band 2)