Schiff Hardin LLP - The Inside View

Juniors at this Chicago-born midsizer aren't initially assigned to a practice area, so they get to carve out their own career.

WITH just over 150 years of history in the Windy City, Schiff has built a pretty strong reputation in the region. The firm also has smaller offices in New York, DC, Ann Arbor, Orange County, and San Francisco. Along with a nod for its construction practice in New York, the firm gets top marks from Chambers USA for construction and environmental work in Illinois and is ranked for IP and insurance litigation too. At the time of our research all of Schiff's second and third-year associates were based in Chicago, except for one in New York and one in San Francisco. Schiff has made several lateral hires recently – including a litigation partner in New York and a labor and employment partner in Chicago – and it made up a bumper class of ten new partners in 2019.

The Work

Schiff's a bit unusual when it comes to work allocation. Instead of having associates select their preferred practice area in advance of starting, the firm allows juniors to remain unassigned for a year, giving them the chance to dip their toes into different practice areas. This turned out to be a pull factor for a number of our interviewees, as "the fact we are not designated a practice group is an indicator that I would have some choice and say in my work." 

Ultimately, most associates make their way into corporate and securities, labor and employment, product liability or litigation. The finance, real estate, IP and private client teams also sometimes take in juniors. The firm does not have assignment coordinators, so getting work is "a mixture of talking to partners or just getting random calls and being asked to join cases." The upside to this is "it really creates and promotes eager self-starters because you can go out, create relationships, and grab the work you want." The downside is that you're "let loose on your first day, and it's a really weird feeling as there's not anything for you to do – you just have to walk around and talk to your connections that you've made during the summer program. That's kind of stressful, but once you're in it feels more natural."

“Time on the phone with clients and witnesses to get a recollection of the story."

Litigation handles various disputes between businesses, ranging from bankruptcy matters and shareholder disputes to disagreements about franchising. Schiff also represents individuals in white-collar crime matters as well as media litigation. While those we spoke to had to trudge through some doc review and "there's no away around a fair bit of research and writing," speaking in court or during arbitrations is also a possibility. We heard that one associate had spent much of their time helping to prepare and eventually deliver the opening and closing statements in an arbitration. We also heard that such work involves "a lot of interview time on the phone with clients and witnesses to get a recollection of the story – you're looking to see how they act under pressure, and how they can be useful to us or detrimental."

Litigation clients: Michael Jordan, homeware manufacturer Dorel, and Rosati's pizza franchise. Helped Muhammad Ali Enterprises sue Fox for unauthorized use of the famous boxer's image. 

Schiff Hardin's corporate group handles M&A, financing and share offerings. There is also a clutch of private equity clients. We heard that "everybody gets a taste of M&A work," with opportunities to take on other matters dotted throughout the year. Rookies do a mix of due diligence, "tracking down information, and doing initial drafts of ancillaries for senior associates and partners." Most tasks are quick and discrete and "you may be juggling three or four matters at a time." Those we spoke to quite liked securities work, as the extra regulatory hurdles add interest with various bits and pieces of info needing to be hunted down. Post-deal work was considered most dull, as "after the excitement of the closing it's like, 'okay now we need to document everything we did and create the closing checklist' – that can be both time-consuming and boring."

Corporate clients: consumer products marketer Newell Brands, drinks machine manufacturer Bunn-O-Matic, and Roper Technologies. Advised The Randolph Group holding company on the sale of its design and distribution business to brands group Bioworld.

The labor and employment group handles advisory, transactional and litigation matters, doing "everything from counseling on compliance issues to working on individual-related litigation." On the advisory side juniors get stuck into "a lot of research to update employee handbooks, especially in California which has a lot of new regulations." This work can be challenging as "a lot of times clients don't want us to rewrite their manual but don't realize it takes longer to merge the new regulations with their existing policy than if we had done a complete rewrite." On the contentious side juniors might "prepare initial disclosures and conduct damages analysis for a mediation." There's also time spent sifting through documents in discovery and helping prepare for depositions.

Labor & employment clients: Bunnett & Company and Energy Feeds International. Represented food flavorings manufacturer Bell Flavors after one of its food technologists was accused of stealing trade secrets from Gold Medal. 


Given the firm's hands-off approach to work allocation, juniors found themselves left to their own devices day to day. "It is at times stressful," one noted, "but I personally feel it takes out some of the competitive feeling people have. Everybody is really just interested in finding their niche." The firm does show some interest in its juniors from up above: it sponsors an associate breakfast every month, which sources said "really allows the associates to connect on a personal level – you learn about your co-workers in an organic way, and, frankly, because the bosses are not there there's no pressure to be on your best behavior or network with the partners." Small perks also help keep associates happy – these include giveaways of free or heavily discounted consumer items like refrigerators and other appliances (through a program with Whirlpool), plus discounted gym membership.

Hours & Compensation 

Schiff recently reduced its billing target from 2,000 to 1,950 hours. Alongside this, 220 firm hours have to be recorded – this can include attending summer associate events or writing a blog post. While the 220 target was thought easy to hit, the difficulty of reaching the 1,950 target varies by group, we heard. Corporate and finance provide plenty of hours, while in real estate "work tends to get stuck at the higher levels and it can be harder for it to filter down to you."

"Ours is not the BigLaw grind.”

Most of our interviewees were early birds arriving around 8.30am and exiting at 6.30pm or 7pm. When things get busy corporate associates pull the longest hours staying till 9pm or 10pm, while those in product liability and real estate don't stay later than 8pm. Schiff didn't match the 2018 Milbank pay rise, though those we spoke to felt "ours is not the BigLaw grind and I don't think people should have been that upset."

Pro Bono

An unlimited number of pro bono hours can count toward the billable target. We heard that “the firm has a longstanding relationship with Chicago Volunteer Legal Services, a nonprofit which coordinates with legal firms to provide pro bono services, and associates are expected to participate.” There's a clinic once a month at which "individuals from the North Side of Chicago can bring in their legal issues. The work ends up being a lot of family law, housing and landlord/tenant issues." Nonlitigation pro bono which juniors can get involved in includes helping nonprofits with their employee handbooks and assisting charities and religious groups with the purchase of new buildings.

Pro bono hours

  • For all attorneys: 16,514
  • Average per attorney: 55

"You get a lot more experience sooner at the junior level here, which makes you more marketable." 

Career Development

Associates move from junior to midlevel to senior, based on gaining set experiences, usually every two to three years. After that it's possible to be promoted to an income partner, and then, after developing a sturdy practice, to equity partner. Sources liked the fact that there's a set framework with merit-based components, particularly as this incentivizes partners and seniors to communicate feedback quickly and clearly. However, some also felt there was a bit too much subjectivity in associate evaluations: the sort of work available is dependent on practice area, and some practice areas were perceived to have more substantive opportunities. One junior explained: "If someone is doing trials they may be perceived as gaining more experience than someone doing transactional work in corporate and securities."

"We have a really strong female representation in our firm."

Ultimately, those we spoke to felt confident they would be able to reach the partnership – Schiff's typical summer class is only slightly larger than its typical partner class and one source believed that "when they hire somebody they do so with the intention of making them partner." If you do decide to leave, sources noted that while Schiff doesn't carry the name recognition of larger firms in Chicago, "you get a lot more experience sooner at the junior level here, which makes you more marketable."

Diversity & Inclusion 

Interviewees felt that "we have a really strong female representation in our firm," often pointing to Schiff's female managing partner Marci Eisenstein as an example. In practice a quarter of the partnership is female, while half of associates are women. On racial diversity, "like a lot of the legal profession, we aren't great – we're not behind the pack, but the numbers are low." The firm has made efforts to improve by signing up to the Mansfield Rule, and there are also a range of affinity groups and a reduced hours program for primary caregivers. We also heard that Schiff uses a panel interview when recruiting to try and minimize the impact of unconscious bias: "It makes the interview process more objective rather than just chatting with a partner for 30 minutes and seeing how you get along." Other efforts to try to recruit and retain diverse lawyers include writing workshops that are delivered to diverse 1Ls, and the firm's involvement with the Leadership Council on Legal Diversity's fellow and pathfinder programs.

Strategy & Future

“Our strategy continues to be laser-focused on growing in our areas of preeminence,” managing partner Marci Eisenstein informs us. These include construction, intellectual property, environmental, litigation, trusts and estates and corporate. Alongside this, against the backdrop of the MeToo movement, Marci expects there will be “more companies conducting internal investigations related to sexual misconduct. Schiff is currently engaging in a number of high-profile investigations. One involves the Illinois House of Representatives and another involves claims of sexual abuse in the Chicago public schools.”

Get Hired

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Schiff Hardin LLP

  • Head Office: Chicago, IL
  • Number of domestic offices: 7
  • Number of international offices: 0
  • Worldwide revenue: $192,848,352
  • Partners (US): 73 (IP), 61 (EP)
  • Associates (US): 87
  • Contacts  
  • Main recruitment contact: Noah Cooper
  • Hiring Partner: David Blickenstaff
  • Diversity officer: Christine McGuinness, Sailesh Patel (Diversity Committee Co-Chairs)
  • Recruitment details 
  • Entry-level associates starting in 2019: 11
  • Clerking policy: Yes
  • Summers joining/anticipated 2019: 2Ls: 14
  • Summers joining/anticipated 2019 split by office: NY: 2; Chicago: 11; DC: 1
  • Summer Salary 2019 2Ls: $3,450/week
  • Split summers offered? Yes
  • Can summers spend time in an overseas office? No

Main areas of work:
Corporate and Transactional, M&A, Private Equity, Intellectual Property, Environmental, Energy, Construction, Litigation, Product Liability, Private Clients, Trusts and Estates, White Collar Defense and Government Investigations.

Firm profile:
Founded in Chicago over 150 years ago, Schiff Hardin is a full-service national firm with nearly 300 attorneys in seven offices. Schiff Hardin is recognized for its strong litigation and transactional work and its cutting-edge intellectual property, environmental, construction, trusts and estates, and government investigation practices. Clients range from Fortune 100 corporations to privately held companies, financial institutions, public utilities, government entities, and high net worth individuals. Schiff Hardin lawyers embrace several core values: a commitment to excellent work and superior client service, strong team spirit, and a belief that diversity benefits both the firm and its clients. The firm encourages new lawyers to explore different practice areas for one year before they choose a practice group, and its approach to lean staffing and extensive professional development gives associates significant responsibility and front-line roles early in their careers.

Recruitment Law Schools attended for OCI in 2019:
Chicago-Kent, Fordham, Indiana University, University of Illinois, University of Chicago, University of Michigan, Northwestern. The firm also collects resumes at several additional schools.

Recruitment outside OCIs:
Cook County Bar Association Minority Job Fair, Loyola University Chicago Patent Law Interview Program, Lavender Law® Career Fair. The firm also welcomes candidates to contact the firm at

Summer associate profile:
Schiff Hardin recruits law students who have a record of leadership and achievement in school, work, and extracurricular and community activities; strong analytical, interpersonal and communication skills; the ability to work independently and on a team; and the drive to gain experience and succeed in a client-focused business.

Summer program components:
Schiff Hardin summer associates get a realistic look at what it’s like to practice law at the firm. Associate advisors, partner mentors, social events, and weekly meetings with the summer committee integrate summer associates and give them a feel for the firm’s culture, practice groups, and management. From day one, summer associates gain experience in the areas of law that interest them by doing real work for real clients. They also learn by observing depositions and trials and attending negotiations and client meetings. Summer associates receive feedback after each assignment and a midsummer review. Finally, summers receive training, including one-on-one sessions with the firm’s writing coach; group writing and corporate drafting workshops; litigation and communications skills training; and business development training.

Recruitment website:
Linkedin: schiff-hardin-llp
Twitter: @schiff_hardin

This Firm's Rankings in
USA Guide, 2019

Ranked Departments

    • Construction (Band 1)
    • Environment (Band 1)
    • Insurance: Dispute Resolution: Reinsurance (Band 2)
    • Intellectual Property (Band 4)
    • Construction (Band 2)