Big deals, big cases, big reputation: that’s the Shearman & Sterling approach to BigLaw.
Shearman & Sterling is a force to be reckoned with. There’s no other way to put it. Traditionally an AmLaw top 50 firm, the New York-based firm has seven offices around the US and a further 18 international offices. But it’s not just the firm’s reach that makes S&S one of the US’s most recognizable names. Nor is it the fact that the firm does everything transactional and litigious, nor that it represents a plethora of household names. Well, it is… but it’s also the sheer stature of the firm’s work that pushes it into that very top bracket. In 1981 the firm worked on the release of 52 hostages at the US embassy in Iran, part of which was turned into the award-winning Argo, starring Ben Affleck. In 1989, after the Berlin Wall came down, the firm represented Germany to help privatize some of the previously state-owned east Germany companies, and if you’re a Liverpool supporter (this is one for the soccer fans), you owe the firm a debt of gratitude. S&S worked on the acquisition of Liverpool FC by its current owners, signaling a return to winning ways. If you’re thinking big and thinking newsworthy, you should be thinking Shearman & Sterling.
To go with its reputation, the firm has 38 rankings in Chambers USA, with top honors going to its mining and metals energy work as well as its mining and metals projectswork (both nationwide). The firm also receives regional market recognition across DC, Texas, and its home state of New York, where it gets particular praise for its securities litigation and white-collar crime & government investigations work.
For junior associates, the word 'prestige' showed up several times as a reason for joining the firm. Others mentioned “its expansive global reach, the immense appreciation and respect I felt for my colleagues as a summer associate… and because I have six-figure debts from obtaining my JD…” Another serious plus was the firm’s ten-week summer program in which summers do two five-week stints in two different practice areas. “You can also request two separate offices if there is the business need,” interviewees added. That’s right, summers can do five weeks in one of the firm’s other offices and that includes the international ones.
After the summer, juniors are contacted before they start and are asked to “rank the practice groups according to interest, then the firm places you.” And while summers can travel across S&S expansive office network, associates on our list were mostly in New York. DC was the next biggest, with Austin, Dallas, Houston, Menlo Park and San Francisco taking the rest. Each department has a staffing coordinator or dedicated partner “who will offer you projects, particularly at the beginning.” But while “you’re encouraged to go through the staffing partner, if you’ve done good work for someone, they can reach out directly.”
The firm’s litigation teams took around a third of the juniors on our list. For those interested in contentious matters, there are a range of areas on offer: the firm does cross-office work in advertising, antitrust, patent, general commercial, securities, and white-collar crime & government investigations, and sources proudly declared “the firm has always been a litigation leader.” The firm has a handful of high litigation Chambers USA rankings in DC and New York. The firm represents massive companies such as General Electric, for example, for whom the firm secured a victory against a consolidated class action by Baker Hughes stockholders, who accused GE of hiding important information before the two companies merged.
“If you show you’re interested and can handle it, you’re given that responsibility.”
“I’ve done a broad range of litigation work,” one associate proudly told us. “I’ve worked on M&A litigation, securities litigation, commercial litigation, business torts, investigations, regulatory investigations…” Our sources liked that they weren’t put in a box: “At Shearman they pride themselves on exposing young litigators to different types of work,” our sources enthused. Associates explained that “a lot of our clients are banks,” who often act as underwriters for various deals. However, we heard “on the M&A litigation side, it’s usually companies and boards.” While litigation sources mentioned doing “a lot of doc review,” which was in keeping with our survey results, they had also had a crack at “drafting of motions, drafting discovery requests, responses… I’ve done all of it. Litigation prioritizes merit over hierarchy,” our sources explained. “If you show you’re interested and can handle it, you’re given that responsibility.”
Commercial litigation clients: General Electric, Citigroup, and Viacom. Successfully represented 1-800 Contacts against the FTC, who alleged that several of 1-800 Contracts’ trademark settlements violated antitrust laws.
"If you want to do an IPO you can reach out to the staffing partner. That’s how it works.”
The firm’s transactional offering, meanwhile, is split into two groups: 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 bankruptcy, projects, derivatives, and the firm’s regulatory practices. Capital markets sources explained that “Shearman has a pretty good split between debt and equity work.” Sources liked that “you don’t really need to choose. You’re exposed to the entire spectrum and you do work everywhere.” Interviewees also noted that lawyers can choose to specialize, but that there’s no pressure to do so. “The firm is interested to hear what you’ve done and what you’re interested in. So, if you want to do an IPO you can reach out to the staffing partner. That’s how it works.” On the responsibility side, sources said “there is a lot of project management,” alongside “more substantive stuff, like drafting key documents, such as agreements, and dealing with comments from the other side.” In terms of clients, juniors found “you get more work from financial institutions. That’s the nature of the business; banks do a lot of deals.”
The firm’s finance group does “a variety of things. We do leveraged finance, mostly lender side,” sources said. “We do borrower side work and we sometimes do debt financing with the bankruptcy team and structured finance and direct lending.” The group has an enviable client list, with the who’s who of global banks dotting its roster. Finance sources said that as “a junior I did a lot of diligence,” but felt that the pandemic allowed for more responsibility. “It was less hierarchical,” we heard, “and so I worked with partners all the time. If you’re proactive, then people will give you the platform to do the work. I’ve never felt there was work I couldn’t do ‘because you’re just a junior.’”
Banking and finance clients: Bank of America, Credit Suisse, Goldman Sachs, and JPMorgan Chase. Advised Morgan Stanley on a c. $2.5 billion financing as part of Culligan International’s acquisition by BDT Capital Partners.
Culture & Career Development
Talking about hierarchy, S&S was seen by our survey respondents as being more hierarchical than the market. But, rather than being standoffish, sources described the firm as “supportive. Everyone is approachable and genuinely cares about your development as an associate,” noted one happy associate. “People speak highly of senior associates and partners,” said another. So in terms of how that hierarchy presented, sources explained that “that signaled to me that there was strong leadership that set the tone for the rest of the firm.” Ultimately, sources felt that “in a market in which you can go just about anywhere, one of the distinguishing characteristics of Shearman is every time I’ve needed something, no matter what the situation, the firm has helped me. I work with very good human beings.”
“Quirky, real interests – people are into all the different arts, sports, and music.”
While our survey indicates clear divisions between partners and associates, sources noted “the culture is very laid back,” with one going to far as to describe their colleagues as “rad.” But it’s not exactly ‘Party on, Wayne!’ ‘Party, on Garth!’. Our survey and sources noted that the firm’s social scene isn’t just “drinks, drinks, drinks.” Instead, folks described the firm as a place where people have “quirky, real interests – people are into all the different arts, sports, and music.” More generally, interviewees explained that “treating others with respect is emphasized from day one across all levels of employees at the firm.”
This top-down, bottom-up respect was confirmed by how highly sources spoke of both the formal and informal mentoring at the firm, which includes “a formal associate and partner mentor,” for summers. All entry-level associates participate in the Mentoring Circle Initiative (MCI). The MCI provides a formal avenue through which junior associates can receive guidance from at least one partner and, in some cases, more senior associates. Juniors “meet with the group and talk about whatever you want to talk about – the firm, practice group, career, whatever you want.” In addition to the MCI, entry-level associates are also assigned one or more associate advisers who provide career development guidance and practice-specific tips. Sources also mentioned that “if you’re no longer interested in a career in BigLaw, the firm will help you navigate out of BigLaw.”
Pro Bono, Hours & Compensation
Pro bono was another area that received praise from our sources. “We work with local and international non-profits,” explained juniors, “such as name-change projects, indigenous projects, restructuring the debt of Belize…” Sorry. What? “Yeah, just Google ‘Shearman and Belize’.” S&S worked with The Nature Conservancy and the government of Belize on a debt restructuring that generated c. $180 million for marine conversation, while reducing Belize’s debt burden. We mentioned the firm does big and noteworthy and its pro bono work is no different.
Billable hours: no requirement
Sources are required to do a minimum of 25 pro bono hours and can count unlimited hours toward their billable total. Speaking of which, S&S has no billable requirement and bonuses are discretionary, though sources reckoned that “people who work above a certain threshold, 2,000 hours, get an extra bonus.”
In terms of the workload, Shearman’s survey scores matched the market, with associates averaging a little over 50 hours a week. The number of vacation days was also similar with Shearman associates taking about eight-and-a-half days a year. In fact, across our survey questions about hours and compensation, the firm generally matched the market average, with over half feeling they had reasonable work-life balance, and over two thirds feeling the hours and workload were reasonable. One area the firm did outstrip the market was in its efforts to address climate change. Over half of associates felt the firm’s efforts to address climate change were meaningful, compared to the market’s 42%.
Pro bono hours
- For all (US) attorneys: 31,507
- Average per (US) attorney: 74
Diversity, Equity & Inclusion
Taking a closer look internally, the firm’s DE&I efforts received mixed feedback. Our survey showed that while the respondents felt there could be better diversity in the recruiting process, there was good diversity on existing teams. At partnership level, the firm scores highly for ethnic diversity and sources said “you have a significant number of different cultures and perspectives, which stands out.” In addition, many of our sources weren’t born in the US, with one such source adding: “I feel I have as good a shot as anyone in terms of promotion. I never felt I was treated differently because of how I look.” Other pros included “active inclusion networks” and “fairly equal gender diversity at associate level.”
“The firm's commitment to associates and partners with children is notable.”
However, gender diversity was said to need some improvement at partner level. Sources reflected “speaking frankly,I don’t think it’s very good. We have all the official programs for inclusion and whatnot, but looking at a case-by-case level, there are definitely many more men.” We heard that in addition to there not being many senior women, those that were there “are hired laterally, rather than making it through.” However, on a more positive note, we did hear “the firm's commitment to associates and partners with children is notable,” which may help move the needle. “Multiple partners and associates I work with juggle kids, and the firm's new hybrid/flexible workweek helps them be at home more for childcare,” one source explained. In most jurisdictions, attorneys are expected to be in the office every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday.
Strategy & Future
Reflecting on the past year, senior partner Dave Beveridge tells us: "We’ve had a lot of positive things happen. This year we’ve had record revenue and record profitability, which is a great confirmation that our global strategy is working. We look forward to building on this momentum in 2022." He adds that "we’re focused on our strategy of driving the right business mix to align with market opportunities. We value our partners, and all our people, across the globe and we have our own path forward and that’s working for us. We’ve also hired a lot of strong lateral candidates as well as making internal promotions over the last two years expanding core practice areas."
The first stage: recruitment on and off campus
OCI applicants interviewed: undisclosed
Interviewees outside OCI: undisclosed
In 2021, Shearman interviewed students from over 30 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 (hospitality suite, reception, dinner), 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 with three partners or counsel and one associate. Then one or two associates usually take the candidate to an informal lunch or coffee. Nathanson tells us that: “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 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
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.”
Interview with senior partner David Beveridge
Chambers Associate: How would you describe the firm’s current market position?
We’ve had a lot of positive things happen. This year we’ve had record revenue and record profitability, which is a great confirmation that our global strategy is working. We look forward to building on this momentum in 2022.
CA: The firm has done some incredibly noteworthy work – such as working on the release of 52 hostages at the US embassy in Iran in 1981 – is there anything, for you, that stands out?
We have many significant accomplishments. We helped with the reunification of Germany and were one of the first western firms in China. If you look at our deal list, we do the first and largest of many deals. We did the first high-yield deal in South Africa, and work on the largest leveraged finance deals and most notable disputes in the market. As a firm we always punch above our weight.
CA: How was the firm’s 2021?
2021 has been the firm's strongest on record. We acknowledged that 2020 was a challenging year for the firm as we faced up to and embraced the need to reshape our business. We’re focused on our strategy of driving the right business mix to align with market opportunities. We value our partners, and all our people, across the globe and we have our own path forward and that’s working for us. We’ve also hired a lot of strong lateral candidates as well as making internal promotions over the last two years expanding core practice areas.
CA: What is the greatest challenge facing the firm in the next decade?
The legal market is very competitive. Our challenge, which is the same for everyone else, is attracting and retaining the right talent. Shearman offers young attorneys unparalleled opportunities to learn from and work with great people and interesting clients.
CA: How has the rise in legal technology affected the firm?
Significantly. The pandemic has shown us that remote working is viable. Technology also helps us serve our clients better, because we can do document reviews and use the tech to produce drafts and communicate better. We have continued to invest in technology as a firm and our seamless transition to remote working is testament to the significant investment we have made. We have focused on enhancing our data and technology, increasing efficiency, profitability and maximizing the service we offer our clients. Our innovative data management system, Shearman Analytics, gives us a leading edge in staffing matters leanly and effectively, driving value for our clients. The key to our success in this space is not just seeing data in isolation but efficiently integrating people, processes and technology. Technology has also made it easier to see what the market is doing. Firms are better informed. It has increased the pace of the practice of law.
CA: Does the firm have any set targets with regards to diversity?
We don’t discuss our targets publicly, but they are obviously very important to us. Diversity and inclusion are part of the fabric at our firm, interwoven in who we are and all we do. We’re Mansfield certified and, as a firm, we are committed to fostering a diverse, inclusive and safe environment for our people, our clients and our communities. The need for this commitment from lawyers especially is more essential now than ever.
CA: Any advice for those about to enter the legal industry?
One of the things that new lawyers should focus on is the relationships they have. Their career will be shaped by people they meet in college, law school and so on. Maintaining those relationships will help people shape their careers. People should also choose an area that they are passionate about. The more passionate you are about the work you do, the more likely it is that you will do well.
Shearman & Sterling LLP
599 Lexington Avenue,
- Head Office: New York, NY
- Number of domestic offices: 7
- Number of international offices: 16
- Worldwide revenue: $1,012,059,000
- Main recruitment contact: Trevor Mathews, Director of Legal Recruiting
- Hiring partners: John Nathanson
- Diversity officer: Loretta Pearce, Chief Diversity Officer
- Recruitment details
- Entry-level associates starting in 2022: 46 approx. (some offers still pending due to clerkships/other post-graduate plans)
- Clerking policy: Yes
- Summers joining/anticipated 2022: 57
- 1Ls: 7; 2Ls: 46; SEOs: 4
- Summers joining/anticipated 2022 split by office:
- New York: 35; Houston: 6; Dallas: 5; Washington, DC: 3, Austin: 2, Menlo Park: 3; London:1; San Francisco: 1 Toronto: 1
- Summer salary 2021:
- 1Ls: $4134/week
- 2Ls: $4134/week
- Split summers offered? No
- Can summers spend time in an overseas office? Yes, on a case-by-case basis depending on level of interest, business need, language skills, and other factors
Main areas of work
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.
This Firm's Rankings in
USA Guide, 2022
District of Columbia
- Antitrust (Band 5)
- Litigation: General Commercial: Highly Regarded (Band 2)
- Tax (Band 5)
- Antitrust (Band 5)
- Banking & Finance (Band 4)
- Corporate/M&A: The Elite (Band 4)
- Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation (Band 3)
- 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 2)
- Real Estate: Mainly Corporate & Finance (Band 4)
- Bankruptcy/Restructuring (Band 5)
- Corporate/M&A: The Elite (Band 4)
- Litigation: Securities (Band 2)
- Technology: Corporate & Commercial (Band 1)
Texas: Austin & Surrounds
- Corporate/M&A (Band 2)
USA - Nationwide
- 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: Mining & Metals (Transactional) (Band 1)
- Energy: Oil & Gas (Transactional) (Band 3)
- FCPA (Band 5)
- Financial Services Regulation: Banking (Compliance) (Band 4)
- International Arbitration: Enforcement Spotlight
- International Arbitration: The Elite (Band 4)
- Projects: Mining & Metals (Band 1)
- Projects: Oil & Gas (Band 4)
- Projects: Power (Band 3)
- Projects: PPP (Band 3)
- Projects: Renewables & Alternative Energy (Band 5)
- Securities: Litigation (Band 2)
- Tax: Corporate & Finance (Band 5)
Visit Shearman & Sterling's careers page for more information.