Pillsbury’s a firm with its head in New York and its heart in San Francisco – and a whole load of sector expertise in energy, tech, finance and real estate to boot.
You could be forgiven for thinking about the famous US cake manufacturer and its cinnamon rolls when you hear the name ‘Pillsbury,’ but rest assured this Pillsbury is an altogether different proposition – and no less a sweet one for it. For there was much to appease the appetites of our ambitious interviewees who were starting out in their BigLaw careers. “I wanted a firm with a lot of practices and flexibility in terms of the work I would be exposed to,” said one, while another commented that they were interested in “a firm where people seemed happy to be there and had stuck around for a long time.” This sense of longevity cropped up in our survey responses as well, with this associate highlighting that “the firm has many ‘lifers,’ and by this I mean people who were once summer associates and are now partners – this showed me that the culture here is strong and that people liked working here.”
So, what are people sticking around for at Pillsbury? Well, it has a clear sense of direction with its sector priorities, as firm chair David Dekker explains: “Our principal industry focus is on technology, which includes life sciences, as well as energy – with a particular focus on the energy transition – financial services, and real estate and construction. We operate in leading legal and financial markets around the world, and we’re looking to maintain a culture where people respect and like one another and enjoy coming into work.” Pillsbury picks up a range of Chambers USA accolades in its home state of California, where it scores top marks in areas like corporate, construction, and tax, while other regional highlights include technology in DC, white-collar crime and government investigations in New York, and IP in Virginia. On a nationwide scale, Pillsbury is highly esteemed for its regulatory work in areas like nuclear energy, the alcohol sector, and aviation, while its outsourcing expertise is also deemed top-notch. Despite its West Coast roots, Pillsbury’s New York office held the most juniors on our list, followed by DC, LA, San Francisco, and Silicon Valley. The rest were scattered betweenHouston, Sacramento, Miami and Northern Virginia.
Strategy & Future
“2022 was generally challenging for the legal industry in comparison to 2021,” notes Dekker, “but we haven’t closed any offices and we’ve had a relatively strong financial year and are looking to invest in the future. We’re also still active in the lateral markets.” Looking ahead, Pillsbury is focusing on its existing markets: “We might open one or two new offices, but our priority is growing our existing locations and practices. Our focus is on what we consider to be broad trends in the world, such as energy transition and decarbonization, and life sciences and biotech. These trends will have a significant impact on many of our practices.”
Dekker is conscious of the competition in the market: “The markets in which we are seeking to grow, including New York, California, DC, Texas, Miami, London and Tokyo, are ones where many of the world’s largest law firms are trying to expand. There is intense competition in these markets. And we’ve all seen stories about the Big Four attempting to compete in the legal market.”
Pillsbury’s practices can be generally grouped into three main categories: regulatory, litigation and work for businesses. The firm’s litigation and corporate practices held the most associates on our list, followed by areas like tax, finance and real estate. “There are assignment coordinators,” a source told us, “but they are not the only avenue for getting work. They are efficient if you find that you’re not busy and need assignments though.” Others told us that the partners in their group “filter the work down and there’s plenty of it to go around – it’s easy for you to find partners who you work best with, but this system can mean that some people are working more than others.”
“...you're able to be somewhat autonomous!”
In the litigation practice, “we work for midsized companies, institutional lenders, financial institutions, airlines – you name it!” The matters are concentrated into “three main sections: insurance recovery, general commercial disputes, and then white-collar crime and securities litigation.” Those who’d focused on white-collar work said that “it’s neat to be on the plaintiff side as you’re always developing strategies and thinking ahead to keep the ball rolling on cases.” Another told us that their recent experience during a trial was “a testament to how Pillsbury allows younger associates to work on substantive things, like logistics, research and the drafting of briefs.” This interviewee, meanwhile, enthused: “I’ve drafted motions to dismiss and parts of motions for summary judgment, and I’ve written a lot of memos on legal issues.” On the whole, “partners let you take on as much responsibility as you want – you're able to be somewhat autonomous!”
“...the partners I work with are at the top of their field.”
Litigation clients: IQVIA, Lyft, Bombardier Aerospace. Represented Bombardier concerning two adversary proceedings brought by a private jet operator.
On the corporate side, the firm is split into two departments: corporate and securities and corporate and securities technology. Within these, the firm works in areas including 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 the first year,” one source told us. “I feel very confident answering questions now without input from higher up.” Juniors had worked on corporate formation and governance for emerging companies and helped those companies – or other more established ones – go public. They had also worked on 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.” One survey respondent in this practice commented: “I love my practice area and the partners I work with are at the top of their field – I'm often working right beside the partners on deals.”
Corporate clients: AT&T, BioLegend, Larva Labs. Represented Sembcorp Marine during its $6.29 billion merger with Keppel Offshore & Marine.
“The path to partnership is clear.”
The firm boasts a ‘best of both worlds’ approach to career development, a source stated: “We have structured training programs and more organic, on-the-job training as well.” The talent development team puts on programs such as a litigation series: “Different litigation associates speak to us and host sessions on topics like how to approach writing motions.” Other, more general training covered subjects like how to communicate with clients and best practice for certain lawyerly processes. Rookies also get up to speed through office-based osmosis: “I’m often working alongside a partner and receive detailed feedback on where I need to improve, but I also learn a lot just from being surrounded by my colleagues.”
“The path to partnership is clear and it’s common for people to come to Pillsbury as summers and later become partners,” a source happily declared, before adding that “people typically make partner around their ninth year at the firm.”
Hours & Compensation
Billable hours: 1,950 target
"It's a team environment here."
70% of our survey respondents felt their hours and workloads were reasonable at the firm. On average, respondents worked around 54 hours per week, which is just a few hours above the market average we record (49 hours across our survey firms). Interviewees told us that they were generally on the grind from around 9am to 7:30pm: “Partners are cognizant about who’s working late and who might have too much on – it's a team environment here and no one wants you to over-exert yourself.”
The hours in litigation could be particularly “crazy” at times, but some thrived in this fast-paced practice: “I just really love working and I take on a lot voluntarily!” one especially motivated junior told us. Another litigator also mentioned weekend work when matters heated up: “I rarely work more than a few hours over the weekend – it doesn’t bother me as it’s kind of my own choice, and partners regularly check in on me and make sure I’m not getting overloaded.” Attorneys can always zen-out during the firm's yoga and meditation sessions during busy times or make use of counselling services if things get too stressful.
To gain bonus eligibility, associates shoot for 1,950 hours each year; 200 of these can be spent on pro bono, while an extra 150 can be accrued via activities like training. 83% of our survey respondents agreed that bonus allocation was fair and transparent at the firm. Pillsbury also has a hybrid working policy, which requires attorneys to come into the office three days a week (FYI: mid-week is when the free lunches are served).
Associates can count up to 200 hours of pro bono work towards their billable target. However, this was described by sources as a “soft cap,” with one explaining: “We are able to request more pro bono hours if we need to and doing that is a non-issue.” The firm works with organizations that focus on youth services; bankruptcy issues; asylum and immigration matters; housing cases; abortion rights; and gun control.
“...it’s a two-hour long event where we research ways to support them.”
To divvy out projects, the pro bono committee puts up what's available on a shared platform, so associates can pick what they’re interested in. An interviewee enthused: “We get exposure to all types of causes. We also get more independence on these sorts of matters, so you get to take on a lot more responsibility.” Sources had helped with Chapter 7 bankruptcy petitions, with one explaining: “The petitions are for individuals who become bankrupt – they get into consumer debt and can't pay it back.” Pillsbury also puts on a ‘research-athon’ to “help formally incarcerated people vote – it’s a two-hour long event where we research ways to support them.” Litigation attorneys often help with drafting motions, attending mediations and helping with briefs.
Pro bono hours
- For all (US) attorneys: 32,206
- Average per (US) attorney: 65
Diversity, Equity & Inclusion
Firm chair David Dekker sets out Pillsbury's recent diversity and inclusion achievements: “We’ve been very aggressive in terms of our on-campus recruiting for our summer program, which was more than 75% diverse this past summer, and we accomplished Mansfield Rule 5.0 Plus Certification. We are looking to achieve 50% diverse representation in significant leadership positions by early 2023.”
A respondent to our survey commented: “The firm's commitment to diversity is super-strong, whether it’s through its pro bono, sustainability or just general diversity efforts.” Another one put it slightly differently (and in a celebratory, affirming way, we should add): “This is the most woke-a** firm on the planet!”
“Tan France came in to speak about queer issues and there was also a discussion at the end.”
Pillsbury has various affinity groups for LGBTQ+ and women lawyers, as well as attorneys of color. As of late, the attorneys of color group met up for a retreat in the San Francisco office: “We all got to know each other, and it was great – there were some good workshops and sessions on.” To celebrate Pride month, Pillsbury invited Tan France – one of the hosts on the hit Netflix show 'Queer Eye' – to its offices: “Tan came in to speak about queer issues and there was also a discussion at the end – it was pretty cool as I’m a huge fan!” Associates can also get up to speed on the firm’s various diversity initiatives and goals during its town hall meetings.
“People generally intend to stay at Pillsbury, and there’s been a lot of investment in us getting to know one another and acting as one big team,” a source told us when describing the firm's culture. Another associate gave this glowing review: “Everyone’s just really lovely here, and it feels like we’re all in it together. Partners sit with staff during lunch and there’s very little sense of hierarchy.” With its roots firmly planted in California, Pillsbury has reportedly adopted a cool Cali vibe across its locations: “The firm as a whole is relaxed, particularly in terms of how we all talk to one another.”
“That’s my favorite thing because I love ice cream!”
The Pillsbury bunch get together during the firm's plethora of social events, which include weekly happy hours, the usual summer and holiday parties, and, last but not least, much-loved ice cream socials: “That’s my favorite thing because I love ice cream!” exclaimed one sweet-toothed interviewee.On a more formal note, the firm also has associate and counsel meetings that are designed to celebrate and perpetuate the firm’s culture: “Partners make a point that the Pillsbury culture is special, and they make an effort to maintain it.”
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
Acceptances: 46 (8 1Ls and 38 2Ls)
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 an 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
Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP
31 West 52nd Street,
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, 2023
- 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)