Reed Smith LLP - The Inside View

From its rugged, industrial Pittsburgh roots, Reed Smith has kept a steely gaze on global expansion – and practice expansion too.

REED Smith is big. Founded in Pittsburgh, the firm now touts around 1,700 lawyers across 17 US offices and 12 international ones, including a huge London operation. The number of practice areas is equally large: Chambers USA awards the firm a sprawling array of rankings regionally and nationwide, for areas including healthcare and life sciences nationally; corporate M&A, commercial litigation and antitrust in Pennsylvania; insurance in New York and Texas; and bankruptcy, appellate litigation, and labor and employment in California.

"The lawyers here are among the best attorneys in their respective fields!"

It was this breadth of practices that attracted a lot of our interviewees to the firm. "The practice groups are varied we do everything except for family and immigration law!" one believed. Those in Pittsburgh were also a bit star-struck by the firm's regional reputation. "The lawyers here are among the best attorneys in their respective fields!" one gushed. "For me wanting to work here is kind of like being a kid and wanting to play baseball – of course you want to play with the Yankees!" (If the Yankees were from Pittsburgh, that is.)

Reed Smith's juniors are spread across an array of offices – the class of 2017 were based in 11 different locations, for example. At the time of our research roughly a fifth of juniors were in Pennsylvania (with slightly more than half of those in Pittsburgh and the rest in Philadelphia); a further fifth were in New York; another fifth in Chicago; another fifth in California (either in San Francisco or Los Angeles); and the final fifth in Houston, DC or the smaller offices. Juniors are similarly spread out across different practice groups: based on the list of associates sent to us for our research we can say that litigation and corporate are the two largest groups, followed by life sciences and healthcare, IP, regulatory enforcement, data security, energy and finance.

The Work

Reed Smith's work allocation system has recently undergone a change: juniors now join a single giant work pool for one year, after which they are placed in a practice area which interests them. Juniors' workloads will now be overseen by 'new associate integration partners' in order to formalize work allocation. Previously work allocation was largely organized via a free-market system (though New York did have work coordinators).

"Research to compile how several states approach particular healthcare issues."

The life sciences and health group has two arms. First a bunch of litigators, who handle things such as product liability and internal investigations. Then a regulatory and transactional subgroup which offers compliance and regulatory advice. On the transactional side there's "research to compile how several states approach particular healthcare issues along with reviewing contracts, so we can give our client a heads-up on the types of risks to watch out for." Juniors liked the fact this gives them the chance to "come up with creative ideas and solutions." On the litigation side, "if you end up doing too much document review it does get very tedious," but getting to do a little was thought of as a plus – "sometimes it's nice to do something like just making a chart, because it gives you a break from all the heavy thinking."

Life sciences and health clients: Walgreen, private equity firm Friedman Fleischer & Lowe, and medical devices company DJO. Advised the McKesson Corporation on acquiring a therapy provider with 17 facilities across the US.

The corporate group does a mix of middle-market public M&A and private equity work with clients ranging "from pharma to fashion," according to one interviewee, which means that "while the mechanics of the deal may be the same, there are always industry-specific differences." Day-to-day junior work is fairly similar regardless of deal size, with much time spent "reviewing data room materials and drafting some of the ancillary documents." Juniors may also be tasked with "looking into a specialist issue like environmental law or tax" or "liaising with foreign counsel if there's a cross-border component." Smaller deals do also allow juniors to have "an initial crack at some of the more substantive documents."

Corporate clients: L'Oréal, tech company Harris, and Leeds Equity Partners. Represented Verizon in its acquisition of a fiber network belonging to cable operator WideOpenWest.

"A lot of writing briefs, legal research and writing correspondence."

A junior litigator told us: "I've done environmental, financial, product liability and breach of contract cases." Unsurprisingly, New York was singled out for having a focus on financial litigation. While the cases are varied, juniors' tasks are pretty similar from one matter to the next: "A lot of writing briefs, legal research and writing correspondence." One area that is a bit different is international arbitration, as cases can be "really academic and tough to get through as you have to deal with very complex patterns and facts." There's also the chance to get into court, with juniors contributing their research and briefs they've written, and even sometimes arguing cases and motions. 

Litigation clients: GlaxoSmithKline, Paladin Healthcare, and chemicals producer Huntsman. Defended First Student's $70 million public transportation contract with the Riverside School District against a rival bid for the contract.


Associates described their colleagues as "patient and willing to teach." For example, one interviewee reported: "Everyone in my group is willing to stop at any time and to walk me through complex issues. As a new associate I feel like a nuisance, but I have never got a sense of frustration from anyone." Our sources picked up on a few differences between the offices. "In Philadelphia people are very fast-paced and tend to talk more quickly than folks from say Richmond," recounted one insider. We also heard associates in San Francisco"often show up wearing slacks on dress-down days; you won't see that in the New York office."

Diversity & Inclusion

Around half of associates are women and just over a quarter are non-white, which is not bad for BigLaw. The partnership is much less diverse, but juniors highlighted the fact that half of senior management positions are held by women. Alongside a diversity program for 1Ls, efforts to increase diversity at Reed Smith focus on developing relationships with diverse student groups and organizations – "we've delivered talks to them to improve awareness of our firm among diverse law students."

"Not just happy hours at a bar, but something where everybody can feel included."

Generally insiders told us they felt comfortable at the firm, complimenting talent manager Jessica Sisco for "doing a really good job acclimating attorneys every summer by putting on a variety of events which are not just happy hours at a bar, but something where everybody can feel included."

Hours & Compensation

Juniors said that on some days they get in as early as 7.30am and on others as late as 10am – you tend to arrive earlier as matters heat up. Twelve-hour days are typical, which often means a 7pm or 8pm finish, though short, intense weeks of high-pressure work could mean finishes closer to midnight. For some of our sources the long hours do mean the firm's 2,000-hour target is "super achievable." Others, however, found their hectic schedules didn't help much. "I feel like it can be tricky at times," one reported. "Work for some clients comes with time restrictions on your tasks and you can only bill for certain things at certain times."

Although Reed Smith doesn't pay top-of-the-market salaries, most associates were happy with their pay. "Compensation doesn't worry me," one insider said. "Here's how I look at it: you do good work and people take care of you." Sources were similarly nonplussed about the firm's decision not to match the Milbank scale in major markets and about its mixed compensation structure. The latter sees attorneys paid lockstep compensation for two years, after which raises become discretionary. One thing that may have helped placate associates is its decision to increase bonuses to a level above the new market scale.

Pro Bono

Associates also received a recent confidence boost on the pro bono front, with Reed Smith upping the number of pro bono hours that can be counted as billable from 120 to 140. According to insiders, enthusiasm for pro bono "depends on who you talk to – some are very committed; others are not." This means that finding the time to do pro bono can be difficult as "we are so busy with our billables sometimes it's difficult to get pro bono done, and sometimes I don't know if the partners always take it into account."

"Doing work to inform people of their rights... felt important."

Each office has a pro bono coordinator who organizes opportunities, often local in nature. We heard about juniors in Chicago taking on cases to help transgender individuals with legal name changes, DC juniors involved in asylum cases and wrongful convictions, and San Francisco rookies taking on a lot of immigration work. "We were doing it at a time when the presidential administration was displaying animus toward immigrants," one source reflected, "so doing work to inform people of their rights and counter the negativity was really timely and felt important."

Pro bono hours

  • For all US attorneys: 45,835
  • Average per US attorney: 50

Career Development

Associates typically stay until around their fourth or fifth year before many lateral over to other firms or leave for in-house roles. This does vary somewhat by department: litigation and corporate associates were perceived as more likely to hang on and attempt to make partner, while we heard that in groups like life sciences more go in-house due to strong relationships with pharma clients. For those with eyes on the partnership, "really the eighth year is when you have a real chance of making it."

"You don't have to wait until the end of the year to get a sense if you are on track."

Our interviewees were chirpy about efforts the firm makes to develop their careers while at the firm. Associates are assigned a partner and associate mentor, and there's a structured training program called Reed Smith University. Recently the firm also introduced a new tool which allows for realtime feedback on completed work, "so you don't have to wait until the end of the year to get a sense if you are on track." One source commented: "That gives me some comfort that the firm is committed to my career development."

We heard mixed opinions on the cachet the Reed Smith name holds in the market. Those in Pittsburgh felt that "if you have Reed Smith on your resume you can do whatever you want," while sources elsewhere said the prestige the firm's name carries with it depends on what practice you're in. One source from San Francisco shared: "The firm's very well known for litigation in the Bay Area, but not so much for corporate." 

Strategy & Future

Managing partner Sandy Thomas says “there are two things at work” with regards to Reed Smith's future plans  – “the strategy of the firm and on top of that our four-year plan.” Starting with the strategy, Thomas elaborates that the plan is to focus on five sectors: life sciences and health, financial services, energy and natural resources, transportation, and media and entertainment. "Our strategy is to develop the expertise to be market-leading in those,” he says. The four-year plan follows from this and consists of a series of targets to measure the firm's progress. For example, along with a continuing push to do more work in South America, the firm is “focused on strengthening our presence in the markets we currently operate in. A good example of that is in California – by the time you publish we will have made some very significant moves to expand in Southern California." Watch this space!

Get Hired

The first stage: recruitment on and off campus

OCI applicants interviewed: 890

Interviewees outside OCI: 65

Reed Smith visits just under 50 law schools for OCIs and collects resumes from just under 20. Alongside this, the firm visits five job fairs: the Lavender Law Career Fair, the CCBA Chicago Minority Job Fair, the Northeast Black Law Students Association Job Fair, New Jersey Law Firm Job Fair and the Bay Area Diversity Career Fair. The firm usually interviews 20 students per campus or job fair.

Reed Smith often sends active alumni to particular law schools, or members of the hiring committee. The firm tells us “we look for individuals with strong academic credentials, diverse backgrounds, and varied experiences,” so showing that you’ve participated in law reviews and moot courts won’t hurt! “In addition to being impressive on paper, we’re looking for students whose communication skills and emotional intelligence make them memorable standouts after a long day of multiple screening interviews.” One source remembered “we would veer away from formulaic questions into a nice fluid conversation.”

Top tips for this stage:

“I found it helpful to have taken opportunities to intern as much a possible. It meant I had a few stories in my back pocket that were good examples of my legal skills, but also light-hearted.”– A second-year junior associate

“Be interesting and interested. Enthusiasm for the Reed Smith opportunity can help students stand out from the pool of academically-qualified candidates. Demonstrate your research on the firm’s offerings, and show your interest in being a part of what we do here in a socially savvy manner.”



Applicants invited to second stage interview: 275

Callback interviews vary between Reed Smith’s offices. In San Francisco, for example, “you can expect to meet with eight different attorneys in pairs, spend intro and wrap-up time with the recruiting manager and take an office tour.” Over in New York and Philadelphia, students attend callback evenings where they’ll meet with four attorneys “in a round robin interview format and then attend a cocktail party where they have an opportunity to connect with additional Reed Smith attorneys.” At this stage, the firm’s ‘must haves’ in a candidate are “strength of character, outstanding personal skills, demonstrated leadership and teamwork, a hunger for self-development, intellectual curiosity and a good sense of humor.”

Top tips for this stage:

“Find ways to connect with your interviewers. It comes down to being memorable as an intelligent, socially adept, hard-working person with a desire to work hard and learn new things. Share narratives about your background and experience that illustrate these characteristics and skills.”

I wish somebody had told me: 'Don't be nervous about the interview – you earned it!’  Instead of coming in nervous, come in proud that you got an interview at a firm like this. It will change anybody’s outlook.” – A second-year associate


Summer program

Offers: 113

Acceptances: 66 (53 2Ls, 13 1Ls)

Reed Smith's summer program runs for ten weeks, between May and July. Before joining, summers are quizzed on their interests so attorneys can aim to have suitable projects lined up throughout the program. Work is assigned though an online portal, with recruiting mangers and assignment coordinators on hand to help incomers navigate the process. The firm tells us that the idea is for summers “to ‘sample from the work buffet,’ trying their hand at a variety of legal work across many client teams.”

The firm’s Summer Associate Academy provides students with an array of training sessions on topics like diversity and inclusion, writing and research, and timekeeping. There’s also a Q&A with the managing partner, Sandy Thomas. Some offices also host additional training - a mediation simulation and M&A case study are the most popular every year. Some offices also pair summers with a dedicated writing coach to help tighten up their drafting. Social events vary by office, but happy hours and coffee and lunch outings are common for summers “to spend one-on-one time getting to know other attorneys in the office.” Most summers are given offers and most accept them. Last year, for example, 47 out of 50 2L summer associates returned to the firm as first-year associates.

Notable summer events: City scavenger hunts, symphony orchestra concerts, escape rooms, outdoor hikes, sailing lessons, soccer matches, wine tastings, costume competitions, picnics, a Painting & Pinot event, museum tours.

Top tips for this stage:

“Find the balance between professionalism and casualness to build a terrific reputation and strong relationships. Demonstrate intellectual curiosity; ask colleagues what they’re working on, and show enthusiasm for practice, people and activities that are of interest to you.” 


And finally...

The firm has some final words of wisdom: “Have a strong sense of what drives you – promotion and advancement, challenging work, giving back, financial reward, purpose, professional connections, strong support systems – and ask questions during the recruitment process to determine if a firm truly offers what you need to be successful and engaged.”


Interview with chief diversity officer John Iino

Chambers Associate: Do you think companies and law firms are increasingly waking up to the commercial case for diversity?

John Iino: I spend a lot of time meeting with clients, such as chief diversity officers of corporations or legal departments, and I try to understand what their goals are and help them by sharing with them what other companies are doing. What we are now starting to see is significant movement via the firm's clients pushing for greater diversity.

It all started back in 2005 when Rick Palmore, who was at the time the general counsel for Sara Lee Corporation, put together about 60 general counsels of major companies and created a plan called 'Call to Action: Diversity in the Legal Profession.' It aimed to create more diversity among large firms by pledging to make diversity a factor in choosing which firms companies hired as outside counsel. Of course, ten years later, it became apparent that frankly not a lot of progress had been made – it may have been due to the recession or a whole host of other things.

So in 2015, the American Bar Association put together a subcommittee of top general counsels to specifically address this and passed ABA Resolution 113 in 2016 which urges all providers of legal services, including companies and law firms, to adopt a pledge to increase opportunities for diverse attorneys. At the same time it also adopted The Model Diversity Survey, which is designed to be a benchmark for measuring diversity of law firms, asking for numbers on specific demographics, and for details on initiatives in place to improve diversity.

At least 50 companies have adopted the resolution. At a conference I spoke at recently, we all agreed that this has resulted in a change of behavior. A number of companies are now more aggressive in their demands. HP for example came out with a 'diversity holdback’ mandate for firms that don’t meet diversity goals, threatening to withhold 10% of fees invoiced. Facebook has come out with a program requiring all its panel firms to have formal talent development programs for diverse attorneys by the middle of next year (2018); and if those plans don’t meet their standard, they are threatening to remove them from their panels, so it's really making law firms focus on talent development. I've met with a number of other companies in the pharmaceutical, transportation and financial services industries who are all now fairly advanced in measuring the diversity of the teams which law firms provide. For a while law firms have acknowledged that increasing diversity is the right thing to do, but now that it has started affecting the bottom line, management has become increasingly involved. White, straight, able-bodied partners are in the spotlight.

CA: Do you envision that law firms would ever turn to affirmative action? Something similar to the Rooney Rule in the NFL?

JI: In fact we do now have an equivalent of the Rooney Rule called the Mansfield Rule, which is named after the first woman admitted to the Bar in 1868. Over 40 law firms have signed up for it. It mandates that law firms will be required to certify, with respect to specific appointments such as partnership, director and committee positions, that the considered talent pool is at least 30% women and minority attorneys.

As we think about leadership and promotions we want to ensure the talent pools being considered are a lot broader than they used to be, and we (Reed Smith) have complied with that rule in our latest equity promotions. Another benefit is that even if minorities or females aren't picked for the positions this year, it does identify candidates who have the potential for the next round who we can then groom over the next couple of years. This year in particular we are seeing more affirmative movement and programs addressing diversity in the industry than we have seen in the previous five years.

CA: When would you expect to see a rough parity in numbers between men and women at partnership level?

JI: We did a presentation recently and one of the slides said that when you look at the number of female equity partners now among large law firms, at the current pace you wouldn't see parity until 2081.

So many clients are saying they believe that the diversity of their workforce and the vendors they work with produces better results for their organizations. So we believe that having diverse decision-makers and diverse teams working on matters will lead to better results for clients in terms of what they are looking for. 

At Reed Smith, we fundamentally believe that our culture and our firm is stronger because of our diversity. Last year we set out our 2020 plan where we identified four specific strategic drivers: quality aligned with productivity, revenue, raising brand awareness, and the fourth is the recruitment and retention of diverse talent. When diversity is one of the firm's four strategic pillars you know that the attention on this is at the highest level. When thinking about diversity in recruiting, you also need to be focused on retention because the cost of attrition goes right to the bottom line and is very costly. One of my goals is to see Reed Smith viewed as a very inclusive organization so all of our people feel they have a place here. People will feel included and people will be loyal. What a great place it will be when we have a culture of inclusion and where people feel they are welcomed here because of who they are.

We have also since introduced monthly scorecards which measure the variation in ethnicity, sexual identity, gender and disability at all levels across each of our offices and practice groups by not only head count but also recruitment, retention and promotion. I'm happy to report that progress has been made in our latest round of equity partner promotions.

CA: Why has it taken so long for law firms to catch up?

JI: I think for consumer-facing companies such as British Telecom or Verizon, diversity is important because they have to understand that the customers they serve are as diverse as the faces of the world. How many people have a phone and take advantage of their services? Those companies have to make sure that their staff reflects their customer base. Contrastingly, in law firms the fact of the matter is that of the big clients who we serve, the CEOs and the boards of directors who we serve, are predominately white males. Because of this, law firms have historically been slow to change as they are mirroring the clients who they serve – the traditional country club set. However, as clients are now driving change, that’s why we see law firms changing their look.

CA: Why do you have an aversion to labeling plans to improve diversity as 'initiatives'?

JI: When I first took over as Chief Diversity Officer, the firm had typically paired diversity initiatives with pro bono initiatives and I personally felt that diversity should not be associated with pro bono. Pro bono is charity and our work on diversity is not charity – it's an integral part of the business. So when, for example, they wanted to have our pro bono and diversity programs on the same page, I said no, maintaining that these are different things. I admire our pro bono programs, they are doing fantastic things, but initiatives to me sounds like a temporary thing – suggesting that it is something that we are only going to do for a limited period. You don't hear about training initiatives; you have a training program which is built into the business. I think we should think about diversity and inclusion as part of the business and so I go at length to call it a program, and promote it as something just as important as branding or revenues.

Reed Smith LLP

Reed Smith Centre,
225 Fifth Avenue ,
PA 115222

  • Head Office: Pittsburgh, PA
  • Number of domestic offices: 16
  • Number of international offices: 12
  • Worldwide revenue: $1.175 billion
  • Partners (US): 449
  • Associates (US): 440
  • Contacts  
  • Main recruitment contact: Jen Ross, US Director of Legal Recruiting (
  • Diversity officer: John Iino Partner and Director of Global Diversity & Inclusion
  • Recruitment details  
  • Entry-level associates starting in 2019: 46
  • Clerking policy: Yes
  • Summers joining/anticipated 2019:
  • 1Ls: 13, 2Ls: 53
  • Summers joining/anticipated 2018 split by office: CHI: 11, HOU: 5, LA: 7, MIA: 1, NY: 11, PGH: 9, PHL: 8, PRC: 2, SF: 7, TYS: 1, WDC: 4
  • Summer salary 2019:
  • 1Ls: $5,208-$6,667 semi-monthly
  • 2Ls: $5,208-$6,667 semi-monthly
  • Split summers offered? Case by Case
  • Can summers spend time in an overseas office? No

Main areas of work

 Reed Smith is a global relationship law firm with more than 1,700 lawyers in 28 offices throughout the United States, Europe, Asia and the Middle East. Its lawyers provide litigation and other dispute-resolution services in multi-jurisdictional and other high stakes matters; deliver regulatory counsel; and execute the full range of strategic domestic and cross-border transactions. Reed Smith is a preeminent advisor to industries including financial services, life sciences, healthcare, advertising, technology and media, shipping, energy and natural resources, real estate, manufacturing and education.

Firm profile

 Reed Smith has been ranked consistently among the top law firms for client service and has been identified as one of the few large firms with a strategic focus on client satisfaction. Reed Smith has grown in large part because of its commitment to delivering high-quality service and developing long-term client relationships. Reed Smith is united by a culture that is defined by core values of quality, integrity, teamwork and respect, performance and innovation and improvement. These are further demonstrated through a firmwide commitment to diversity, pro bono and community support activity and the professional development of the firm’s lawyers.


Law schools attending for OCIs in 2019:
Reed Smith visits numerous local and national schools for On-Campus Interviews. A full list of schools and OCI events can be found on the firm’s website here:

Recruitment outside OCIs:
Reed Smith does resume collection at a number of schools and connects with potential candidates through diversity events, employer receptions and through 1L fellowships like LCLD and client partnerships.

Summer associate profile:
Reed Smith is looking for summer associates who have a combination of top academics, practical experience and superior analytical and writing skills. The firm values people who are mature and engaging and who demonstrate leadership capabilities and community involvement.

Summer program components:
Reed Smith offers law students first-rate work in a challenging and busy atmosphere where their contributions count from day one. Summer associates will become immersed in law firm life by completing assignments relating to actual client situations. Each assignment presents a fresh opportunity for summer associates to hone their research, writing, judgment, communication and analytical skills.

CareeRS is Reed Smith’s competency-based career development program with a focus on rolespecific professional training and development, including mentoring, and more developmentally oriented assessments tailored to the needs of associates. The firm offers its summer associates numerous chances to participate in both formal and informal training programs, such as: managing partner’s forum, mediation and mergers and acquisitions clinics, law firm economics, cross-cultural training and legal writing. Summer associates also have numerous opportunities to participate in pro bono and community service projects and become acquainted with our Women’s Initiative Network and Diversity and Inclusion Committees.

Please visit for more information about each of these initiatives.

Social media

Recruitment website:
Twitter: @reedsmithllp
Facebook: Reed-Smith-LLP
Linkedin: reed-smith-llp

This Firm's Rankings in
USA Guide, 2019

Ranked Departments

    • Healthcare (Band 4)
    • Insurance: Policyholder (Band 2)
    • Labor & Employment (Band 4)
    • Litigation: Appellate (Band 2)
    • Litigation: General Commercial (Band 5)
    • Media & Entertainment: Transactional Recognised Practitioner
    • Bankruptcy/Restructuring (Band 4)
    • Healthcare (Band 2)
    • Corporate/M&A & Private Equity (Band 5)
    • Insurance: Dispute Resolution: Policyholder (Band 1)
    • Litigation: General Commercial (Band 4)
    • Corporate/M&A (Band 2)
    • Corporate/M&A: Highly Regarded Recognised Practitioner
    • Insurance: Dispute Resolution: Policyholder (Band 3)
    • Real Estate (Band 2)
    • Antitrust (Band 3)
    • Construction Recognised Practitioner
    • Environment Recognised Practitioner
    • Healthcare (Band 2)
    • Insurance (Band 1)
    • Labor & Employment (Band 3)
    • Real Estate Recognised Practitioner
    • Tax (Band 2)
    • Banking & Finance (Band 2)
    • Bankruptcy/Restructuring (Band 1)
    • Litigation: General Commercial (Band 3)
    • Bankruptcy/Restructuring (Band 1)
    • Corporate/M&A & Private Equity (Band 1)
    • Litigation: General Commercial (Band 1)
    • Insurance (Band 2)
    • Labor & Employment (Band 4)
    • Advertising: Transactional & Regulatory (Band 4)
    • Energy: Oil & Gas (Regulatory & Litigation) (Band 4)
    • Government Contracts Recognised Practitioner
    • Healthcare (Band 3)
    • Insurance: Dispute Resolution: Policyholder (Band 2)
    • International Arbitration (Band 4)
    • International Trade: Export Controls & Economic Sanctions Recognised Practitioner
    • Labor & Employment Recognised Practitioner
    • Product Liability & Mass Torts (Band 2)
    • Startups & Emerging Companies Recognised Practitioner
    • Transportation: Aviation: Litigation Recognised Practitioner
    • Transportation: Shipping/Maritime: Finance Recognised Practitioner
    • Construction (Band 3)
    • Labor & Employment Recognised Practitioner
    • Litigation: General Commercial (Band 4)