Want your finger on the corporate pulse, but to stay out of the concrete jungle? There’s no better than Delaware’s RL&F.
IT might have important-sounding nicknames like the First State and Diamond State, but it’s probably not controversial to say Delaware doesn’t scream legal epicenter. President Joe Biden may hail from these parts (causing major traffic snarl-ups in Wilmington when he comes to visit, local sources told us), but in the BigLaw world it’s perhaps more Dela-where? than Dela-yeah. Those with business nous know, though, that the Delaware General Corporation Law – passed at the turn of the 20th century – makes this arguably the most important jurisdiction in American corporate law. It’s home not only to “the Delaware Court of Chancery, which creates precedent across corporate America,” but also the fine folks at Richards, Layton & Finger.
Formed at the same time as the Delaware General Corporation Law’s passing, Richards is a corporate specialist with a twist. The firm scores a spread of local rankings in Chambers USA and Chambers High Net Worth, including tippety-top spots for chancery, corporate M&A and alternative entities, bankruptcy and restructuring, real estate and private wealth law. Our junior associate sources described Richards as “the biggest and best in Delaware,” offering a combination of both “substantive work” and “the ability to buy a house” (property prices are much cheaper here than some of the BigLaw capitals). Drawn in by “the thought you might be part of history,” associates were also impressed with “the people. From partners to admin assistants, everyone is incredibly nice.”
Summer associates in the firm’s Wilmington office (its one and only) spend half the program in one department and half in another, which our sources “really liked. You’re able to see and get integrated into two different groups and get work from others too.” Juniors then “list their preferences before returning full-time.” Around a third of the juniors on our list were in corporate litigation (easily the biggest recruiter), while bankruptcy and business-general transactions, and general litigation were also popular. Other potential destinations include alternative entities, real estate, corporate advisory and tax.
It’s in the corporate litigation department that you’ll find “Delaware corporate law, which is almost exclusively before the Court of Chancery.” General litigation is “more diverse. We do everything but corporate law including patent litigation commercial disputes, trusts and estates, real estate and labor and employment.” Both groups expose juniors to different types by of work by rotating them through different sub-teams. “In corporate litigation,when you’re on that team you get all your work from those partners and any associates higher than you on the chain,” we heard. Juniors spend their first year in one subgroup before rotating to another.
“Delaware is known for its corporate work, but it’s also a significant patent jurisdiction.”
The subject matter may be different, but junior tasks are similar in both litigation groups – “a lot of drafting and legal research, and handling filings.” How about document review? “You know what, there’s not too much,” an impressed junior said. “We’re occasionally slammed with it, but there’s a really good internal team that deals with that.” More senior juniors also got to take depositions. “On any given day you could work on anything” in the corporate litigation team. “A large swathe relates to fiduciary duty, books and records inspection actions, and some disclosure cases.” According to sources, “there’s also some general contract stuff and commercial litigation as well.” General litigation is even more diverse, with juniors involved in a little of all sorts. “Delaware is known for its corporate work, but it’s also a significant patent jurisdiction,” we heard. The firm does IP-related work for Apple, Google and L’Oréal among other big names.
Corporate litigation clients: Dell, Tiffany & Co, Sycamore Partners. Defended Boeing in an $8 million fraud suit and a consolidated derivative suit linked to plane crashes and groundings.
The corporate team is split into “departments that are devoted to either corporations or alternative entities such as limited liability companies, limited liability partners, general partnerships etc.,” sources explained. Richards prides itself on the fact that its corporate team handles more high-value deals than any other in Delaware – in one huge recent example, the firm acted for jewelry giant Tiffany in its $16.2 billion acquisition by LVMH. ‘Alternative entities’ means anything not set up as a traditional company – financial institutions, for example. As in litigation, “juniors generally get tasks from the assigning partner. They’ll say they’ve got X, Y, and Z and then the associates will divvy up that work by seniority.”
“If you get it wrong, you’re looking at a major problem. You don’t learn this in law school.”
“Other states follow the legal precedence in Delaware,” which has real consequences for associates in the corporate team. “Whenever someone in New York or wherever needs something done they’ll need an opinion of Delaware counsel to ensure that they comply with relevantlaw.” That means Richards associates “do opinion work from time to time” and sources warned that “you’ve really got to know the minutiae of transactions,” because “if you get it wrong, you’re looking at a major problem. You don’t learn this in law school.” Associates highlighted that while this is different to your standard corporate transaction work, you’re still “working together with the other side as opposed to against each other in litigation. You still need the same analytical skills and need to know the law and potential risks.” It’s also important to draw a distinction between “the reasoned opinions that our firm gives, which is the firm’s opinion on the law and documents, and an ordinary opinion, which is more a report based on the documents saying ‘everything looks good here.’” If that’s not enough to get your head around, juniors also tackle a “healthy mix of day-to-day case management and substantive research questions.”
Corporate M&A clients: Momenta Pharmaceuticals, American Express, Blackstone Group. Represented cloud computing and tech firm VMWare as Delaware counsel in its $2.7 billion acquisition of Pivotal Software.
Hours, Compensation & Pro Bono
Working with big name clients can mean big hours demands, and sources confirmed that while there is “a good family-friendly culture” at Richards, Layton & Finger, things can get busy-busy. According to one associate, “it would be rare to be done before 7.30pm and also rare to work until midnight but both of those things do happen.” They also told us it would be unusual “not to work on a weekend” but that they didn’t expect to “work a whole weekend.” Got it. A poll across all departments suggested 50-60 hours a week was the norm. For some, “working BigLaw hours” without being “paid the same amount” has “caused some friction” – others felt that “the salary is very reasonable.” There’s no official billing target; “bonuses are slightly dependent on your hours, but loosely.” The firm did tell us that the hours count more than they used to. Those who hit 1,800 hours can expect “a good bonus,” and after that threshold it increases “every 100 hours but maxes out at 2,400.”
“It would be rare to be done before 7.30pm and also rare to work until midnight.”
It’s impossible for associates to max out their pro bono – they can count unlimited hours towards billable targets. Sources said “there are a lot of different opportunities, from legal pro bono to community services,” and “you’re encouraged to take on some pro bono work” by the firm. Our interviewees favored child and family court matters, and “helping local non-profits.”
Pro bono hours
- For all (US) attorneys: 5,860
- Average per (US) attorney: 32
Whether it’s pro bono or billable work, “you get the sense that everyone wants to generate the best possible work product” according to juniors. One confidently told us: “There’s no-one I don’t like at Richards. It’s demanding, but it feels like a place I can be myself and people are genuinely interested in my success.” Others described an atmosphere free of unnecessary hierarchy and had “no issue contacting a senior associate when I come to a sticking point.” This approach pays off when everyone’s deep in the metaphorical trenches: “When you’re working late on something, sometimes partners will be there and get dinner with you. Everyone’s in it together.”
Long hours meant that even pre-Covid, sources suggested they “don’t always hang out with a ton of people from work.” They did mention a “very nice Christmas party” as well as the “firm softball team during the summer and a family event in the spring, like a carnival.” If off-the-cuff socializing is more your thing, several practice groups run happy hours and monthly lunches. “A bunch of us go out and play trivia once a week, which was a lot of fun.” We also heard that “associates don’t really compete with each other,” which interviewees chalked up to a meritocratic approach to career development. “If you’re diligent and put in the hours, they’re going to make everyone partner who deserves it,” one reckoned. “There’s no point being competitive because no-one’s taking your spot.”
“If you’re diligent and put in the hours, they’re going to make everyone partner who deserves it.”
Career Development, Diversity & Inclusion
For those looking to build a legal career, Richards provides a soft landing. “Senior associates in particular did a good job of welcoming us, letting us know which partner likes what and providing us with the nuts and bolts of the department,” sources enthused. One noticed that “a lot of directors take pride in teaching and mentoring. From what I understand, people in a lot of firms aren’t as interested in that.” To go with the more formal coaching, lean team staffing “along with excellent clients and top work” means associates learn plenty on the job. We also heard good reports on origination credit at Richards: “I’ve had very senior associates tell partners when I was a first year that I was the one who had done certain tasks.”
“I think Richards suffers the same problem that many or all BigLaw firms have,” our sources said of D&I more generally. Several noted a “demonstrable effort to improve diversity,” and those who had come in “as part of a diversity initiative” told us they’d enjoyed good personal experiences so far. There was widespread praise for the work of the Women’s Initiative, as well as the firm’s general commitment to mental health during the pandemic.
Richards, Layton & Finger PA
- Head office: Wilmington, DE
- Number of domestic offices: 1
- Partners US: 75
- Associates US: 97
- Main recruitment contact: Samantha Stern firstname.lastname@example.org
- Hiring partner: Michael D. Allen
- Recruitment website: rlf.com/careers
- Diversity officer: Danielle Andrisani Nowaczyk, Director of Attorney Development
- Recruitment details
- Number of entry-level associates starting in 2021: 16
- Clerking policy: Yes
- Number of summers joining/anticipated 2021:
- 1Ls: 3, 2Ls: 13
- Number of summers joining/anticipated 2021 split by office: 16, Wilmington
- Summer salary 2021:
- 1Ls: $ 3365/week
- 2Ls: $ 3365/week
- Split summers offered? case-by-case
Main areas of work:
- Bankruptcy & Corporate Restructuring
- Commercial Litigation
- Commercial Transactions
- Corporate & Chancery Litigation
- Corporate Governance, Corporate Transactions, Mergers & Acquisitions
- Corporate Trust & Agency Services, Structured Finance
- Intellectual Property
- Limited Liability Company & Partnership Advisory
Richards Layton offers attorneys the unique opportunity to work on globally significant matters at a firm that feels more like a small town. With a partner to associate ratio of about 1:1, our junior attorneys receive personal attention, intellectual challenge, and early responsibility. The firm has participated in many of the groundbreaking cases defining Delaware corporate law, and its lawyers have long played crucial roles in drafting and amending the state’s influential business statutes. The firm understands the importance of pro bono work, and our pro bono program gives attorneys the opportunity to use their time and talents to enrich others as well as themselves. Our associates are encouraged to join the firm’s pro bono teams in their first year. Diversity and inclusion are core institutional commitments at Richards Layton. The firm participates in and supports a variety of local organizations that share our dedication to advancing underrepresented groups in the legal profession.
Law schools attended for OCI in 2021: Columbia, Cornell, Dickinson, Drexel, Duke, George Washington, Georgetown, Howard, Iowa, Maryland, Michigan, New Mexico, Notre Dame, Penn, Penn State, Temple, Tulane, Vanderbilt, Villanova, UVA, Washington & Lee, Wash. U (St. Louis), Widener, William & Mary
Recruitment outside OCIs:
We encourage write-in applications from students at all ABA-accredited law schools. Please visit rlf.com/careers
Summer associate profile:
Richards, Layton & Finger seeks candidates with strong academics, Law Review/Journal experience and/or moot court who are motivated and responsible. We look for those with initiative and passion for the law, who are optimistic, energetic and efficient, and willing and eager to take ownership of assigned matters. We like to see those in leadership roles.
Summer program components:
Summer associates rank their practice area preferences prior to their arrival in May. Midway through the summer, everyone changes departments. Two designated assigning attorneys – one director and one associate – coordinate and assign work. Summer associates are routinely given the same level of work and responsibility as full-time associates. Informal seminars, luncheons, and weekly social events introduce summer associates to the firm as well as to all that Wilmington and the surrounding areas have to offer.
This Firm's Rankings in
USA Guide, 2021
- Bankruptcy/Restructuring (Band 1)
- Chancery (Band 1)
- Corporate/M&A & Alternative Entities (Band 1)
- Intellectual Property (Band 2)
- Labor & Employment (Band 3)
- Real Estate (Band 1)