Shearman & Sterling gives a lesson in international presence.
OUR Shearman & Sterling 101 begins with a history course – the firm was founded nearly 150 years ago, and has built up “a universally respected reputation” in the time since. “I was attracted by the old prestige of the firm,” several associates told us, “we helped Ford go public in the '50s and represented the Rockefellers.” Next lesson, geography: Shearman has offices in Africa, Asia, Europe and the Americas, is home to lawyers from 80 different countries and interviewees proclaimed it “the most global among the upper ranks of New York firms. They deal with complex issues for clients all over the world.”
But the most important class for your education is, of course, law, and Shearman earns gold stars for capital markets, general commercial and securities litigation, Latin American investment, projects and various other areas, according to Chambers USA. Its signature practices also include international arbitration. By securing a $50 billion award for former Yukos shareholders, the firm broke the record for the largest ever arbitration case – a record previously also held by Shearman!
Nearly all new starters begin associate life in Shearman's NYC mothership. Most start as generalists in either the corporate or litigation pools, then dive deeper into one niche a couple of years in. “Officially we have to rank our preferences after a few years and then the partners meet to decide who goes into what group, but midway through second year people tend to focus on the practice they're leaning toward,” one explained. “I appreciated that Shearman didn't make me choose straight away – law school doesn't prepare you for that!” A few groups including tax, antitrust and compensation, governance and ERISA sit outside the pool.
General corporate associates submit a monthly ranking to their group coordinator stating three areas they'd like work from, and “they do their best to defer to your preferences.” However, “at the end of the day, you'll end up being put on something if you have the time.” M&A, capital markets, real estate and project development finance all fall into the bucket. Those with international aspirations were pleased to “work across multiple jurisdictions, from the US and UK to China and the Middle East.” There's “a lot of diligence no matter which group you're working in,” but sources generally agreed “with the philosophy of getting into the weeds as a junior, so you understand all the underlying principles.” Other responsibilities vary by area – capital markets involves “pretty consistent first cracks at drafting background documents,” while real estate “generally throws you in more quickly – you're drafting leases pretty early on.” Partners generally “aren't hard-asses, if you're struggling they won't drill you into the ground,” and do a good job of explaining the bigger picture.
“...multiple jurisdictions, from the US and UK to China and the Middle East.”
Litigation also has an assigning partner who “looks at your hours over the past week and month and is aware of your interests. When push comes to shove, if you have bandwidth you'll end up taking the case.” Sources downloaded a whole internet's worth of investigations, arbitration and commercial, M&A and securities litigation to their dockets. Financial institutions are the main clients – “we tend to represent underwriter banks a lot” – but there's healthcare, media and technology companies too. Direct client contact may not be “a huge part of the group; corporate associates get a lot more,” but juniors were happy with what got served up. “I haven't done much document review, except on an emergency basis” one announced, “there's been a lot more drafting and research to do. Senior associates and partners don't hesitate to put juniors in charge of larger processes.”
There was some upheaval in antitrust in 2017: the DC team took on several lateral hires but global head Stephen Mavroghenis jumped ship to Quinn Emanuel in Brussels. US associates didn't seem fazed though, declaring themselves “very happy” with their workload – “I couldn't have expected better. I've done a lot of merger analysis memos and antitrust risk assessments.” The group seesaws between litigation and counseling work with corporate clients across finance, healthcare, defense, retail and other industries. “Being in a small group tends to lead to significant client contact,” a colleague in compensation, governance and ERISA shared. Their group “touches almost everything: deal work, offerings, employment agreements, Section 16 filings for companies, they're all in the day-to-day.” Juniors got to walk through document changes with clients, after drafting ancillary agreements themselves.
Training & Development
After an initial orientation week in their home offices, new starters flock to New York for a first-year conference. Later there's one for mid-level associates, then another called 'Associate Leadership Academy' for high-achieving sixth and seventh years. Litigators told us “something that sets Shearman apart is its exceptional programs throughout the year.” Not to be outdone, transactional juniors declared that “Shearman does a really good job covering the breadth of corporate practices.” One wily source “calculated that if I went to every lunch training event, I'd only have to buy my own lunch two or three times a month!”
Associates get one formal review a year: “We select reviewers and submit them to an online system, where they rank us in categories and can provide comments.” There's also an annual 'Snapshot' career development meeting to talk through what they'd like to do more of in the future to build their skills.
Culture & Diversity
“You definitely feel like you're part of something historic – this firm was established a year before the Canadian Constitution!” We'll smugly correct this associate's error: Canada's constitution technically predates Shearman's 1873 foundation by a good few decades. But you get the point: it's old, and with that come questions about its culture reflecting such esteemed white-shoe origins. “Shearman used to get that,” admitted one source, “but people here are their whole selves, nobody's putting on a 'lawyer suit' when they come in and there's no fratty, bro culture.” That's especially true in DC, which feels “a bit more casual than New York. The atmosphere is a little more relaxed and button-down.” Sources generally felt that “although there is obviously a hierarchy, partners don't seem like demigods,” and some gleefully revealed they regularly went out for lunch with their seniors.
“Nobody's putting on a 'lawyer suit' when they come in.”
Across the firm as a whole, associates felt pretty chummy with colleagues. “It's more social than I expected,” one told us, enjoying bi-weekly office happy hours and an environment in which “even on the average Tuesday, a bunch of people will go to the bar. The firm's generally been doing more associate and firm-wide events recently.” This comes after insider info from last year that the associate committee was pushing for more socializing outside the traditional summer associate period. Most felt they and the firm had done “a good job.” Less party-hard sources stressed “there's no sense that you're not part of the group if you skip a happy hour. The social life doesn't get as crazy as at some other firms, but I do have friends here who I'll hang out with outside work.”
Shearman got a similarly encouraging review on the diversity front, with most interviewees agreeing “it's taken into consideration when we're recruiting, and any issues we have aren't specific to Shearman.” Some felt that the firm's international nature helped boost diversity, particularly its International Associate Program which allows lawyers qualified in other countries to do a one-year internship in New York. Others argued “racial diversity is probably the category we do least well in. It's tricky because the attitude is there and the firm really talks about issues but I don't see the impact of it in our ranks.” Affinity groups in place to address the divide include WISER for women, BLAQUE for black lawyers and AVALANCHE (no, really) for Asian attorneys. Given that “the last five years of incoming classes have been incredibly diverse,” the priority going forward looks to be “making sure that carries up to partner level – it's relatively stagnant at the moment.”
Shearman's New York home on 599 Lexington Ave is “really cool from the outside, very different from a typical Manhattan office building.” Its beauty, though, is… skin deep. “A little dated” was the diplomatic description, but one associate didn't hold back, declaring it “the worst among the big firms. The pink walls and light brown wood are just old-fashioned.” As things stand, juniors share an office for two years before getting their own. The firm is contemplating relocating in 2020, as part of a “modernizing” rebrand. Team DC moved to new lodgings in 2016 complete with “glass walls and much more modern amenities, including standing desks. The glass was a point of contention but associates are generally really happy.” Shearman's smaller offices in Menlo Park and San Francisco also take a newbie or two each year.
“Very different from a typical Manhattan office building.”
Given the firm's international reputation, it's no surprise that cross-office communication and collaboration is silky smooth. “I went to the other coast for a friend's wedding and I spent some time working there,” a junior related, adding: “It was very easy to pretend I was home.” A sojourn overseas is also a real possibility, and every year a few entry-levels get the chance to work abroad permanently as US track associates in one of Shearman's international offices.
“I know people who've done hundreds of pro bono hours at the expense of billable work and nobody's told them not to.” This associate testimony reflects sources' big thumbs-up for Shearman's pro bono efforts. Notable highlights include a program sending attorneys to Africa with Lawyers Without Borders, and a 15-year collaboration with the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. More recently there's been “a giant jump across the board reacting to the Trump administration. We had people heading to JFK as soon as the executive order went out.” Asylum and immigration cases are currently “a hot commodity.” Everybody's mandated to do 25 hours of pro bono, and “in the last couple of years the firm established that if you don't reach the minimum two years in a row, you lose your bonus.”
Pro bono hours
- For all attorneys across all US offices: 35,554
- Average per US attorney: 85.5
Hours & Compensation
There's no official billables requirement for Shearman associates. Those we spoke to suggested “somewhere around 2,000 is what most aim for – an unofficial target I hear floating around is 2,050, but that might just come from other firms.” Most suggested it's “something I don't think about often. There seems to be plenty of work going around.” In 2016 the firm announced a more solidified remote working policy wherein associates can work two days a month from home; they even get a laser printer if they fancy it. When in the office, juniors tended to work until about 7pm or 8pm on average. “Busy days can stretch until midnight or later, but I very rarely pull all-nighters. At the most extreme end, I'll be in the office 70 hours a week,” one said.
“...something I don't think about often. There seems to be plenty of work going around.”
Salaries and bonuses follow a “quite rigid lockstep” in sync with the market. “If there's work to be done and someone isn't billing they might not get a full bonus,” and similarly “if you go above and beyond they'll compensate you accordingly.” Sources found it “encouraging to know you'll be rewarded if you have one of those years of having to work 2,900 hours.” Without an hours target, associates found it pretty easy to take at least some of their four weeks allotted vacation: “I forgot to take any until September and got reminded I had a bunch of weeks stored, it's a good amount.”
Strategy & Future
Four fifths of Shearman's offices are outside the US, and it isn't done expanding its global reach: senior partner David Beveridge tells us the firm is“looking to open an office in South Korea. That will happen in the near future.” That said, the US isn't being left out of the party, and he reveals “New York and DC have been the strongest growth areas in the US” over 2017. Will Brexit, the Trump administration and other protectionist developments affect Shearman's cross-border ambitions? “It's hard to predict now,” Beveridge explains, “but uncertainty inevitably affects the volume of transactions. It's a looming risk.”
“This firm still considers one of its strong suits to be its international abilities. Candidates who can highlight any experience outside the US or even any discernible interest in international law stand out.” Shearman's M.O. is global work, so any experience that could come in useful for cross-border work – from language skills to work experience at a multinational company – will stand a candidate in good stead. “Everyone at Shearman has an interesting personality,” associates told us, “people are open-minded and we look for applicants who are easygoing but hard workers.” It's also important to come in prepared with a good understanding of what Shearman does and “a few questions – they don't have to be great ones. If you don't have anything to ask at all, it makes me wonder how interested you actually are.”
Easygoing it may be, but an interview with the firm won't be a walk in the park. “Most firms I interviewed with stuck to cookie-cutter questions, Shearman asked me to name a time my boss was disappointed with me,” one source revealed. “They ask tough questions not because of the substance of your answer, but to assess your ability to handle yourself in a difficult situation.” People skills are key, as “you have to be well rounded, and not just a jack-of-all-trades, but a master of all. You can't be the kind of person who wants to sit at the back typing up documents, we have to be able to put you in front of a client and take them out to lunch.”
Getting something a little different on your resume can boost your chances – one associate source said “I personally like to see interesting internships or summer jobs, you have to have something going on beyond good grades.” It's also important to recognize the firm's key differences from its competitors. “Show a strong interest in the global presence of the firm, and the freedom to be a generalist early on. Both of those things are traits the firm is really proud of.”
Interview with senior partner David Beveridge
Chambers Associate: What have been the most exciting developments at the firm since we last spoke?
David Beveridge: We've continued to do well, 2017 has been another strong year with lots of great deals taking place around the world. To give you a few examples, we worked on General Electric's merger with Baker Hughes; Jaguar Land Rover's £300 million senior note offering; one of the first ever IPOs in Saudi Arabia; and after 35 years finally scored a great pro bono victory for Ted Harrington, whose death sentence has been declared unconditional due to his mental condition. We've also developed a privacy practice to cross over with our corporate regulatory group, as well as an emerging growth team on the West Coast. Finally, we've made some strong lateral hires to our antitrust group.
CA: Last year you told us America was the firm's primary target for growth – how has that developed? Which offices in particular are growing?
DB: New York and DC have been the strongest growth areas, with four antitrust partners joining us in DC. There's been growth in M&A and private equity in New York, and we've had Rodney Cannon joining the firm in Abu Dhabi, channeling a lot of work to the US.
CA: With the rise of populism and potential shifts toward protectionism on the horizon, how do you think the legal market will evolve?
DB: It's hard to predict now, but uncertainty inevitably affects the volume of transactions. We've not seen that this year, that's a looming risk. As a global firm we're affected by changes around the world, and protectionism will have a major impact, but so far we're yet to see that in practice. Our international presence continues to grow – we're looking to open an office in South Korea, that will happen in the near future.
CA: Do you think any of the firm's practice areas don't get enough attention?
DB: Maybe that's the case with some of our smaller practices – we have great tax and derivatives groups, and a very small but strong bankruptcy team. All of our practices are excellent, from litigation and international arbitration to M&A and capital markets across the globe. Our project development and finance group wins all sorts of awards.
CA: Attorneys tend to start as generalists before specializing – what are the advantages of that?
DB: We believe that it's best for our attorneys to have as broad an experience as possible, so they're used to thinking outside the box. One of the major strengths of our firm is effective collaboration between our practice groups – ability to collaborate is something we look for when we hire. So much of our work is cross-border and involves multiple practices, and our effectiveness doing so is something clients often remark upon.
CA: How do you ensure a good degree of transparency with attorneys and staff across the firm as a whole?
DB: There are various levels to that. When it comes to associates, we have a number of training programs including sessions for third years and a leadership academy for sixth years, walking them through the strategy and future aspirations of the firm. We try to meet all of our associates at breakfast meetings to go through those topics, and host team meetings with each practice group where their group leader gives them an overview of the state of affairs in the practice area.
CA: How has the lifestyle of the lawyer, at Shearman or generally, changed in recent years?
DB: Over the last ten or 15 years it's become a highly competitive world, and marketing has become a much more important component. Like most businesses, we have to maintain our brand service clients regularly, because if we're not in front of them then another firm will be.
CA: What differentiates Shearman's brand from those of other firms?
DB: We have a fairly strong identity, which our clients recognize – we're known for cross-border work and maintaining a global practice, and have a clear passion for the law. Our industry focus adds value to our services. Clients appreciate our ability to get things done across our worldwide platform, and appreciate the culture we've established and how well we all get along.
CA: Is there anything else you think readers should know about the firm?
DB: The message we'd like to get across is that attorneys can do things here they won't be able to at other top firms. We focus on the top end of the market in various practice areas across the whole world, from Saudi Arabia to Paris to the US. On top of our top-tier rankings in a number of areas, we maintain a strong pro bono practice. Shearman works around the world on very important matters, and on top of that it's a great place to work.
Shearman & Sterling LLP
599 Lexington Avenue,
- Head Office: New York, NY
- Number of domestic offices: 5
- Number of international offices: 16
- Worldwide revenue: $917 million
- Main recruitment contact: Trisha Weiss (firstname.lastname@example.org) Director of Legal Recruiting
- Hiring partners: John Nathanson, Linda Rappaport
- Diversity officer: Jessica Maroney Shillito, Director of Global Diversity & Inclusion
- Recruitment details
- Entry-level associates starting in 2018: 58 approx. (some offers still pending due to clerkships/other post-graduate plans)
- Clerking policy: Yes
- Summers joining/anticipated 2018: 53
- 1Ls: 2; 2Ls: 51; SEOs: 3
- Summers joining/anticipated 2018 split by office:
- New York: 48, Washington, DC: 2, Austin: 1, Paris: 1, San Francisco: 1
- Summer salary 2018:
- 1Ls: $ 3500/week
- 2Ls: $ 3500/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, Michigan, NEBLSA job fair, Northwestern, NYU, Osgoode, Penn, Stanford, St. John’s, Texas, 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
Chambers USA Guide 2017
District of Columbia
- Antitrust (Band 5)
- Tax Recognised Practitioner
- Antitrust (Band 4)
- Corporate/M&A: The Elite (Band 4)
- Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation (Band 3)
- Environment: Mainly Transactional (Band 3)
- Latin American Investment (Band 1)
- Litigation: General Commercial: Highly Regarded (Band 2)
- Litigation: Securities (Band 2)
- Real Estate: Mainly Corporate & Finance (Band 4)
- Tax (Band 4)
- Technology: Corporate & Commercial (Band 2)
USA - Nationwide
- Banking & Finance (Band 4)
- Capital Markets: Debt & Equity (Band 3)
- Capital Markets: Derivatives (Band 3)
- Corporate/M&A: The Elite (Band 4)
- Energy: Mining & Metals (Transactional) Spotlight Table
- FCPA (Band 4)
- Financial Services Regulation: Banking (Compliance) (Band 4)
- International Arbitration (Band 4)
- Projects: Mining & Metals (Band 1)
- Projects: Oil & Gas (Band 4)
- Projects: Power (Band 2)
- Projects: PPP (Band 3)
- Securities: Litigation (Band 3)
- Tax: Corporate & Finance (Band 4)