Shearman & Sterling LLP - The Inside View

True to its name, Shearman delivers Sterling contentious and transactional work from New York to the world.

*In May 2023, Shearman & Sterling announced its plans to merge with Allen & Overy, one of the UK's most prestigious magic circle firms. Read more about the news here.*

If you’re partial to a perusal of the AmLaw Top 50, you’ll be familiar with Shearman & Sterling. If you’re not, here’s a quick breakdown. The firm is a Wall Street OG, founded by two litigation and transactional attorneys some 150 years ago. Initially representing the likes of industrialist Henry Ford and financier Jay Gould, Shearman built longstanding relationships with the world’s biggest banking corporations, including Citigroup and Deutsche Bank. Make no mistake, though. There’s more to this firm than finance. Our sister guide, Chambers USA, has awarded Shearman a grand total of 18 rankings across the New York and nationwide categories. The top accolades go to its nationwide mining and metals practice and Texan corporate and commercial group.

If international work is on your mind, Shearman & Sterling should be at the top of your list. The firm is headquartered in New York, but has a further six US offices and 18 more internationally. Coincidentally, the firm’s also picked up 18 rankings in the Chambers Global guide. This global reach means associates get to work with colleagues on cross-border matters across the world: “The firm really does have a big international footprint, and that draws a lot of people to Shearman,” one junior told us.

“New York complexity and prestige."

On top of its international presence, interviewees explained that the firm also boasts “New York complexity and prestige” across its domestic offices. However, it was more than just the work that attracted associates: “The biggest thing that sold me was that the people weren’t afraid to display their quirkiness, and actually liked working with each other.” New York BigLaw can get a bad rep for being too much like a sweatshop, but our sources reckoned “Shearman has a reputation for having a more family-friendly work-life balance. People have a life outside of the law firm, but still do complex work.”

Strategy & Future

When we spoke to senior partner David Beveridge (prior to the news of the merger with Allen & Overy), he said that the strategy going forward is “to drive the right business mix.” That means Shearman intends to grow while “focusing on our core practice areas and identity.” Beveridge highlights the firm’s growing strength in its disputes practice and transactional groups and emphasizes recent partner hires in the leverage finance practice and Texas offices. 

Beveridge also shared that ESG is at the core of Shearman’s strategy, and the brand-new office in New York is “testament to our commitment to foster a more inclusive and engaged global culture.” The firm has recently implemented Legal Operations by Shearman, “an award-winning Shearman Analytics management system which has been designed to help lawyers be more productive and serve clients better.” 

The Work

Office-wise, the majority of associates headed for the Big Apple, followed by Dallas, Houston, and Austin. The remaining few juniors were spread across DC, San Francisco, and Menlo Park. After the summer program, juniors are asked to rank practice groups according to preference. A mix of business need and associate preference is then taken into account when assigning groups, and while not everyone gets their top choice, many do.

Litigation proved to be the most popular choice, followed by capital markets, finance, and other smaller transactional groups. Staffing partners manage work assignment at the firm, meaning “there are lots of different things you can work on, and you’re not pigeonholed into doing any one thing.” However, many found that those who build relationships with partners typically get staffed on matters informally. It’s not uncommon for whoever is around when a deal comes in to be assigned the work, either. We heard these scenarios were especially common outside of New York.

Over in litigation, associates are involved in everything fromantitrust, securities and M&A litigation to internal investigations and government enforcement work for large financial institutions. This work isn’t formally divided into subgroups, but one junior explained how, generally, “the leaders for antitrust are in DC, the IP litigation folks are mostly in northern California, and the newer offices in Texas seem to be somewhat generalists.” It should be noted that there’s plenty of collaboration across domestic and international offices: “The pandemic has driven so much online teamwork.”

One interviewee explained how “juniors act as jack-of-all-trades a lot of the time,” often finding themselves doing admin-style tasks. That said, we heard some partners are prepared to give more substantive responsibility to first-years: “You get both sides of the coin. We work as a team, so juniors are oftentimes the first line of defense when it comes to getting admin stuff done.” For instance, doc review and discovery tasks are common on larger matters, whilst smaller matters see associates handlemotion drafting and written discovery: “If you show partners that you’re capable, you can work a few class years above what you might be assigned.”

Litigation clients: Uber, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs. Represented Twitter in shareholder litigation relating to Musk’s acquisition of the platform.

“On one of the first deals I saw from start to finish, the CEO client and I were on a first-name basis!”

The firm’s transactional offering, meanwhile, is split into two distinct business units: corporate and finance. The former includes areas like capital markets, tax, compensation, and of course M&A work, while the latter does, well, finance, but includes restructuring, projects, derivatives, and the firm’s regulatory practices. “Sometimes I’m staffed on deals where there’s more structure, with different levels of seniority,” one capital markets interviewee noted, “and on those I do standard assignments like basic project management, keeping track of distributions, and the elementary drafting of closing documents.” However, on a significant number of matters, newbies found themselves “running the deal without being micromanaged.” Interviewees were also shocked at the level of client contact: “On one of the first deals I saw from start to finish, the CEO client and I were on a first-name basis!”

In finance, juniors typically find themselves working with banks, financial institutions, or energy companies. There’s a mix of large M&A financing matters and smaller borrower-side credit agreements. Juniors explained that signature pages are notorious first-year tasks. Work in this group is admin-heavy, so newbies found themselves doing closing checklists, preparing and sending out completed signature packets, and making sure all documents are signed off on. Another interviewee explained how responsibility “depends on how big the deal is. For a $2 billion deal I was the most junior, so I had to draft up promissory notes, execute them, and do know-your-customer checks for banks.”

Transactional clients: JetBlue Airways, Dow Chemical, General Electric. Represented Fortune 500 tech company Intercontinental Exchange in its $13 billion acquisition of Black Knight.

Pro Bono

First things first, there’s a baseline requirement for associates to do a certain amount of pro bono each year (in previous years we've placed that requirement at 50 hours).For most of our sources, the baseline shows the firm’s dedication to pro bono: “We’re very liberal in our pro bono efforts and the firm has been consistent in standing against any type of inhumane or social injustice. When Roe v Wade happened, there were partners who were like, ‘let’s go down and protest’.”

There are plenty of cases to get involved with, which are distributed by a dedicated coordinator. Interviewees couldn’t pinpoint any specific causes on Shearman’s radar, but did feel that the variety on offer meant “you can volunteer with whatever piques your interest. You’re encouraged to take pro bono on, especially when there’s a bit of a slowdown.” Plenty of our interviewees had brought their own matters to the firm (after securing approval through formal channels) and described the set-up as one that allows you to “forge your own path.” Others relished the pro bono opportunities as “a breath of fresh air compared to working with banks on billion-dollar deals. It feels much more human.”

Pro bono hours

  • For all (US) attorneys: 25,095
  • Average per (US) attorney: 54

Hours & Compensation

Billable target: 2,050

The billable hour target for bonus eligibility is a new feature of life at Shearman. Essentially the policy is that at least 1,900 of the 2,050 requirement must be from client billable work. The remainder can be filled with up to 25 hours of billable pro bono and 125 hours of firm chargeable activities like business development, DE&I, mentoring, and training sessions. The change didn’t go down particularly well with interviewees, who pointed out that Shearman now has one of the toughest billing targets. Another sore point was around bonuses, which used to be based on work performance alone: “We never used to have a bill, bill, bill culture. Now it doesn’t matter how much effort you put in, if you have a slow year, you miss the bonus.” We were told that the reasoning behind the new billable target was to provide an increased level of transparency.

“When things are really busy and you just can’t take on any work, you know that there are other associates behind you who are able to step up.”

Others were concerned that the change means juniors will suffer during market downturns. Previously, “they used to tell us to enjoy slow periods, but now I can’t because I’m concerned about billable hours and looking for work.” However, others pointed out that the previous system was too ambiguous as “you were never certain if you were hitting the suggestion. The formal requirement makes it more transparent.”

As we often hear, there isn’t really a typical working day when it comes to hours. “Sometimes I get really busy, where I’m working 12 or 13 hours, other times it’s seven or eight.” Interviewees agreed that it would be nice to see some more formal support systems but were clear that everyone does their best to accommodate and help each other out. “When things are really busy and you just can’t take on any work, you know that there are other associates behind you who are able to step up.”


“When I met Shearman attorneys before I started, not once did I hear the word ‘collegial’. They showed it instead,” one interviewee told us right off the bat. Sources explained how associate camaraderie is strong at the firm: “Especially as juniors, we use Teams group chats to share resources and ideas. Our responsibilities frequently overlap so we ask each other for help.” As newbies move up the ladder, this camaraderie turns into organic mentorship. “Partners are responsive if I need feedback or feel lost, so I’m not afraid to email them,” one junior explained, adding: “When I first started, everyone was extremely supportive and understanding of the fact that, as a first-year, you can feel pretty lost sitting down to do something you’ve never done before.” In this way, hierarchy certainly exists, but only “in the sense of who’s in charge. It’s a relief to know who to go to, and it would be overwhelming without that structure.”

“People now make a conscious effort to create an actual culture that’s not entirely work-focused, whether that's about get-togethers, friendships, or informal mentorships.”

Interviewees appreciated the open-door policy at the firm, or rather the glass-wall policy for those in the newly renovated New York office. One associate clarified, “the walls are clear glass for all offices, so you don’t really knock! There’s less privacy, but it gives you a little bit more access if you’re walking by.” We also heard that, in this post-pandemic era, “people now make a conscious effort to create an actual culture that’s not entirely work-focused, whether that's about get-togethers, friendships, or informal mentorships.”

Career Development

According to our survey, just under half of respondents thought partnership was achievable – lower than the market average. That said, sources told us there are plenty of formal mentoring schemes, including partner and associate mentors for juniors. Live and on-demand training takes place throughout the year, teaching associates the nuts and bolts of various aspects of the law. Juniors also valued the firm’s informal mentorship: “What’s critical is having partners or senior associates who take pains to get you involved and help you know what’s going on. They try to give you work that might be above your head to let you get that experience.” However, some associates outside of New York felt the side effects of being a satellite office, as “it’s harder to be mentored over Teams or email.” That’s why informal chats with partners have been so crucial to juniors, and some have even started helping associates think about long-term career plans. “They try to be transparent about the path to making partner,” one junior told us, “it’s far away, but they give you steps. A lot of it is about developing your reputation, building a business book, and client relationships.”

Diversity, Equity & Inclusion

Associates reckoned the firm makes an effort to ensure partnership is achievable for people with children – more so than at the average firm. In fact, Shearman surpasses the market in a number of areas – the firm’s mental health and wellbeing initiatives are the areas Shearman performs best in. Representation at the partnership level was, however, highlighted as a point of improvement by our interviewees. Nevertheless, women partners were described as “committed to changing things and equalizing the playing field for women at the firm.” Firm-wide, there are affinity groups, events, and mentoring for women and diverse associates: “The firm is also encouraging associates to think about how non-diverse attorneys can be good mentors for diverse juniors.”

Interviewees had faith in the firm’s commitment to improvement, and openness to listen to associates: “When people are vocal, they take it into consideration. We have an associates’ committee where we talk about the issues we have, and leadership has been interested in how we’re feeling.”

Get Hired 

The first stage: recruitment on and off campus 

OCI applicants interviewed: undisclosed 

Interviewees outside OCI: undisclosed 

In 2022, Shearman interviewed students from over 40 law schools – both on campus and through job fairs. The firm looks at the top schools, but “also we look for impressive students at more regional schools or schools that may be beyond the top 50,” recruiting committee chair John Nathanson tells us. The firm also accepts resume collections and unsolicited submissions. OCI interviews are typically conducted by a partner or by a two-person partner/associate team. “Consistent with best practice, our interviewers ask behavioral questions to reduce implicit biases in the interview setting,” says Nathanson. At this stage, Shearman is looking for candidates who are “prepared and engaged, who have confidence and can speak passionately about their accomplishments to date.” If there are other events surrounding the OCI (virtual or in-person hospitality suites, receptions and dinners), you should consider all of that as part of the interview process too.  

Top tips for this stage:   

“Be prepared, think of relevant, unique questions to ask your interviewers. If you find yourself getting nervous, try to view the process as an opportunity to have a series of engaging conversations with interesting and impressive lawyers.” – John Nathanson, recruiting committee chair  


Applicants invited to second-stage interview: undisclosed   

When students visit for a callback interview, they typically meet two partners, two associates and a junior associate ambassador. Nathanson tells us: “Our callback interviews are a mix of conversational and behavioral interviews. We want to know whether the student has exhibited some of the competencies we feel are critical to be a successful associate.” Questions are more in-depth at this stage and students are expected to articulate why they are interested in BigLaw and why they are drawn to Shearman in particular. “At this stage, more so than the on-campus interview, we expect students to have done a fair amount of research on the firm and to have a clear idea of ‘Why Shearman?’”   

Top tips for this stage:   

“Similar to the on-campus interview, be prepared and engaged, and make sure you can speak passionately about your past work and your accomplishments.”  John Nathanson, recruiting committee chair   

Summer program   

Offers: Undisclosed 

Acceptances: 64 2Ls, 6 1Ls 

Summer associates rotate through two practice groups. Senior and associate mentors are assigned during each rotation and, depending on the group, summer associates may attend client meetings, court hearings, depositions or business trips. Most of the work a summer associate receives comes from their mentors. However, there is some cross-staffing based on a summer associate’s expressed interests as well as business need. There’s also Shearman’s ‘Summer Associate University,’ a formal professional development program that delivers training on a variety of topics throughout the summer. Programs have covered the likes of legal research & writing, negotiation skills, professionalism and law firm economics. 

In addition to weekly or biweekly training programs, the firm hosts several social events to help summer associates get to know each other and the firm “in a more informal setting. Past events have included a sailing event, a design-your-own-sneakers event, and a cooking competition.” Prior to starting, incoming associates are asked to rank their practice group and office preferences, then “based on that information, and taking business needs into account, first-year practice placements are made,” says Nathanson.   

Top tips for this stage:   

“Work hard; try to learn as much as possible; be enthusiastic about the work and about the opportunities in front of you; meet as many lawyers as possible; take advantage of social opportunities (events, lunches, practice group outings, etc.) to get to know your classmates who will be your future colleagues.” – John Nathanson, recruiting committee chair  

And finally…   

Nathanson’s parting wisdom is to “come into the firm with an open mind and openness to learning. Be proactive about your career and take advantage of every assignment and every opportunity given to you. That is how you will learn the most and leave the best impression on those with whom you work.” 

Shearman & Sterling LLP

599 Lexington Avenue,
New York,
NY 10022-6069

Main areas of work

 Anti-Corruption and Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, antitrust, capital markets, corporate governance, derivatives and structured products, emerging growth, environmental, executive compensation and employee benefits, finance, financial institutions advisory and financial regulatory, financial restructuring and insolvency, intellectual property, international arbitration, international trade and government relations, investment funds, litigation, mergers and acquisitions, patent litigation, privacy and data protection, private client, project development and finance, public international law, real estate, sports, tax

Firm profile

 We have over 850 lawyers around the world speaking more than 60 languages and practicing US, English, French, German, Italian, Hong Kong, OHADA and Saudi law. Nearly half of our lawyers practice outside the United States. Combining legal knowledge with industry expertise, our lawyers provide commercial advice that helps clients achieve their objectives. The firm represents many of the world’s leading corporations, financial institutions, emerging growth companies, governments and state-owned enterprises.


Law schools attending for OCIs in 2022:
Shearman & Sterling will be recruiting at the following schools or regional job fairs: American, BC, BU, Cardozo, Chicago, Columbia, Cornell, Duke, Fordham, Georgetown, George Washington, Harvard, Howard, Lavender Law (Job Fair), Michigan, NEBLSA job fair, Northwestern, New York Law School, NYU, Osgoode, Penn, Stanford, St. John’s, SMU, Southern University Law Center, Texas, Texas Southern University, Toronto, Tulane, Washington University, Vanderbilt, UC- Berkeley, UCLA, USC, UVA, Yale.

Recruitment outside OCIs:
The firm conducts a number of resume collections and considers write-in applicants as well.

Summer associate profile:
We seek candidates who are bright, confident and enthusiastic about the practice of law and bring with them life, work, and educational experiences that will be highly valued by clients and colleagues alike. We also remain strongly committed to diversity and inclusion and overall excellence in our hiring. Finally, we expect that our associates will view collegiality and teamwork as important personal and firm values.

Summer program components:
Summer associates are given the opportunity to rotate through two practice groups. Senior and junior advisors are assigned during each rotation and, depending on the group, summer associates may attend client meetings, court hearings, depositions, or business trips. The firm has a robust training program for summer associates and also hosts a variety of social events.

Social media

Recruitment website:

This Firm's Rankings in
USA Guide, 2023

Ranked Departments

    • Corporate/M&A: The Elite (Band 4)
    • Antitrust (Band 5)
    • Litigation: General Commercial: Highly Regarded (Band 2)
    • Tax (Band 5)
    • Antitrust (Band 5)
    • Banking & Finance (Band 4)
    • Bankruptcy/Restructuring: Highly Regarded (Band 1)
    • Corporate/M&A: The Elite (Band 4)
    • Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation (Band 2)
    • Environment: Mainly Transactional (Band 3)
    • Litigation: General Commercial: Highly Regarded (Band 3)
    • Litigation: Securities (Band 2)
    • Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations: Highly Regarded (Band 1)
    • Real Estate: Mainly Corporate & Finance (Band 4)
    • Real Estate: Mainly Dirt (Band 5)
    • Bankruptcy/Restructuring (Band 5)
    • Corporate/M&A: The Elite (Band 4)
    • Litigation: Securities (Band 2)
    • Technology: Corporate & Commercial (Band 1)
    • Corporate/M&A (Band 2)
    • Banking & Finance (Band 4)
    • Capital Markets: Equity: Manager Counsel (Band 3)
    • Capital Markets: High-Yield Debt (Band 4)
    • Capital Markets: Investment Grade Debt: Issuer Counsel (Band 3)
    • Capital Markets: Investment Grade Debt: Manager Counsel (Band 3)
    • Corporate/M&A: The Elite (Band 4)
    • Derivatives (Band 2)
    • Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation (Band 4)
    • Energy Transition (Band 2)
    • Energy: Oil & Gas (Transactional) (Band 3)
    • Financial Services Regulation: Banking (Compliance) (Band 4)
    • Mining & Metals (Band 1)
    • Projects: Mining & Metals (Band 1)
    • Projects: PPP (Band 3)
    • Securities: Litigation (Band 2)
    • Tax: Corporate & Finance (Band 5)

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