Steadily nearing the $1 billion revenue mark, S&S has an impressively diverse practice and is making progress on diversity among its people.
The world moves fast these days, and it can be easy to undervalue consistency and the slow-burn success story. Getting to the top is hard – staying there is harder. With nearly 150 years of history, New York legal scene stalwart Shearman & Sterling has put the work in and is now reaping the rewards. Among the big players in the Big Apple, this firm stands out for its international reputation, picking up a whole host of top rankings in Chambers Globalincluding strong showings in Africa, Europe, Latin America, Asia-Pacific, the US and global-wide. The success has helped the firm reach $861.03 million in revenue in 2020.
Don’t look past Shearman’s formidable domestic strengths, highlighted by Chambers USArankings for various litigious and transactional practices (including a top spot for mining projects nationwide). “There’s no doubt that the work is interesting, and our cases are complex and sophisticated,” junior associates agreed. “Shearman has a robust litigation practice as well as a great reputation for its M&A specialisms.” It wasn’t just headline-grabbing work and industry awards that got associates excited: “I wanted a firm which focuses on diversity, and I was surprised by how diverse Shearman is,” one noted.
“Shearman has a robust litigation practice as well as a great reputation for its M&A specialisms.”
New York is the firm’s flagship and takes on nearly all the incoming junior associates; DC, San Francisco and the relatively new bases in Austin and Houston each welcome small numbers annually. They may be part of a huge global operation, but juniors were pleased to be kept in the loop on firm news. “My group has coffee sessions every month or so in which they talk us through possible deals coming in, the financials and mentorship opportunities,” a source in M&A told us.
Strategy & Future
"We are in the middle of executing our growth strategy and we are recruiting top-notch lateral talent, as well as making internal promotions at quite a rapid pace," says senior partner David Beveridge. He continues: "In 2020, as a result of the execution of our strategy, we experienced growth in our antitrust, leveraged finance, litigation and restructuring practices." In 2021 the firm’s already made lateral hires into its private equity practice in Houston and funds team in New York, as well as welcoming back former partner Mark Shapiro as the chairman of restructuring and insolvency in NYC. On the flip side, Shearman recently lost an eight-partner team from its international arbitration practice.
Geographically, Beveridge highlights investment in the DC, Middle East, and West Coast offices, "and we had a new addition in Texas with the presence of our new office in Dallas. We’ve also increased our focus on industries such as technology and energy. Our corporate client base has grown significantly, and we’ve increased the proportion of our revenues which derive from our US businesses."
Litigation is the most popular destination for new associates, followed by M&A and capital markets; while junior litigators remain generalists in the early going, transactional associates join a subgroup directly. There’s also room for newbies in finance, project finance, funds and governance. Shearman’s bases share a common assignment structure: “There’s a staffing partner and we have to submit a weekly availability chart. It’s a pretty fair process, and if there are any issues or if you’re interested in specific work you can always discuss it with them.” Interviewees found “partners and associate mentors reach out to people occasionally if they know they’re interested in a specific matter.”
“They like junior associates to be jacks of all trades.”
Junior litigators found they were able to do “pretty much everything” Shearman’s practice had to offer. This included “really interesting trade secrets litigation, securities and investment fraud cases” as well as “bankruptcy litigation and white-collar investigations.” New York is “famous for securities litigation, but they like junior associates to be jacks of all trades.” Investigations were a hot pocket of the practice in both NYC and DC during our research process.
Appreciating how wide they could throw their nets, associates found themselves catching mostly small fry, with some tasty big fish in the mix here and there. “My role is overwhelmingly more junior with some substantive work sprinkled in,” one explained in less aquatic terms. Another told us “the downside of being in one of the larger practice groups is there can be more of a disconnect with partner engagement, and so associate development can be a bit difficult,” though they’d forged “great connections with assigned mentors.” Generalist litigation juniors can expect to draft motions, handle document review, complete legal research and write client advice memos. “On the smaller teams, we get a bit more responsibility to contact clients directly – it’s great!”
Litigation clients: Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, BNP Paribas. Represented fintech software and services company SS&C Technologies in litigation brought by industry peer Clearwater Analytics alleging misappropriation of trade secrets.
Shearman’s corporate department is split into 13 subgroups– M&A and capital markets are the largest practices. Cross-office work on a national and global scale is commonplace for juniors: “I’ve worked with colleagues in London, Hong Kong, Singapore, Paris, Brazil and the firm’s Texas offices,” a New York source told us. In capital markets too, associates felt “there’s no distinction between New Yorkand other offices like Toronto. Capital markets is a global group.” Navigating time zones with ease, the team handles “vanilla bond, investment grade and high-yield debt offerings; we also advise underwriters on SPAC deals.” Over on the traditional M&A side of the practice, juniors can expect to work on deals “on both the buy and sell side in various industry sectors.”
“There have been concessions put in place to help us progress.”
Day-to-day responsibilities for juniors on deals include due diligence, creating charts, legal research, assignment provisions and occasionally “contacting clients directly. I also had a hand at drafting resignation letters for board of directors members at certain companies, as well as drafting executive summaries,” a source said. They and others had mixed responses when we asked about potential career progress up the corporate ladder: “I haven’t really felt a focus on associate development. We have programs for it, but as soon as the work comes in, billable hours are the priority above anything.” One junior felt that “given the size of the firm and work allocation rates, partnership isn’t a real possibility.” Optimistic counter voices suggested “there have been concessions put in place to help us progress. The support is there in weekly team meetings; we also have mid-terms focused on personal professional development.”
Corporate clients: General Electric, Salesforce, JetBlue Airways. Represented defense tech corporation Raytheon in its merger of equals with United Technologies, valued at $93 billion.
Each new class of first-years flies out to New York for a conference; there's another for midlevels and a final meeting of minds called the 'Associate Leadership Academy' for sixth-year associates and above. Juniors across the board were pleased with recently improved training and regular Zoom conversations with partners: “Alongside a bunch of different programs, we now have a mentoring circle where partners catch up with us and have a conversation about how we’re doing outside work.” After swapping Netflix recommendations, “there are also conversations about professional development, training and potential approaches.” Some in New York reckoned the path to partnership was a bumpy and uncertain road, with bigger associate classes and not a large number of homegrown partners made each year. It’s common for Shearman associates to move in-house or to a clerkship a few years down the line.
Hours & Compensation
Billable hours: no requirement
Without a formal target, most associates aim for around 2,000 hours. “That’s what the firm considers full utilization of your time,” juniors said. “It’s sort of unclear how additional activities are weighted, but we’ve been told pro bono, marketing, recruitment and D&I activities can be counted toward hours.” The firm confirmed that there is no formal target for these additional activities, with the exception of pro bono (see below). Shearman hands out bonuses based on associates being in ‘good standing’. One shared their experience: “I know I was slow when COVID started, but I was actively doing pro bono and getting a lot of CLE credit so I did get the fall bonus – thank you Shearman, I loved that!” Associates were equally satisfied with the “market rate” salary.
“…heads up on Thursday or Friday if you have to work weekends.”
“Litigation tends to be very quiet before 10am,” juniors there told us; typical days started slow at around 9am and wrapped up by 8 or 9pm. “Things tend to pick up when we have a big production, but after one of those I went on vacation and no one irritated me. We do tend to work weekends quite a bit.” Weekend work seems to be standard practice throughout S&S departments: the news from capital markets was that “during the second quarter of the pandemic, the whole market hit records in terms of volume and number of deals.” Our sources here had to work “70% of weekends. Staffing seems to be a bit disjointed at the moment, but there are people who acknowledge the extra work.” M&A interviewees likewise appreciated the “heads up on Thursday or Friday if we’ll need to work weekends, and even then, it’s typically just a couple of hours a day.”
The firm expects all associates to bill at least 25 hours of pro bono as part of its bonus criteria, “which is achievable. The firm is great at sharing opportunities and some of us have done 150 or even 250 hours.” Common Shearman options range from immigration status adjustments and managing election hotlines to helping out on matters related to military veteran discharge and transgender name changes. “We’ve also helped the AALDEF, an Asian-American pro bono organization, with voting research which they provide to another group,” a pro bono-eager associate shared. “On the immigration front, we even do translation work with immigration documents – it’s helpful to have a second language and there are a lot of diverse people at the firm to help with that.” On one more recent case, associates worked with ACLU to help prisoners during the COVID-19 pandemic: “We made sure inmates were offered masks, assessed the conditions and checked if they’re getting tested or not.”
Pro bono hours
- For all attorneys across all US offices: 34,743.9
- Average per US attorney: 81
“There seems to be a lot of emphasis on juniors taking initiative,” according to the folks in Shearman’s New York HQ. “The culture is more focused on professional development and taking care of yourself rather than a top-down approach. That said, everyone is treated with respect.” One junior confirmed they “don’t expect anyone to yell here. No one would take you to task for messing something up, people have an underlying kindness.”DC sources noted that “the smaller offices have a different culture” than the Big Apple, “one that is more laid back.”
“…more focused on professional development and taking care of yourself.”
Widespread love of “constructive comments and collaboration” prompts a lot of social learning events: “They bring back a lot of alumni for cocktails (or mocktails) and they talk about what they’re doing at the various corporations they now work at.” Another popular series is “Oasis sessions where the firm invites attorneys down to watch a movie or sports game with popcorn and cakes.” Affinity groups also host a number of events ranging from trivia nights and bingo to a ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire’ quiz game. Since socializing’s largely gone virtual, Shearman’s hosted an inclusion network conference, cooking and cocktail classes via Zoom – “they were great fun!”
Diversity & Inclusion
Alongside the BLAQUE (for Black attorneys), WISER (for women) and AACES (Asian attorneys) networks, the firm recently set up the BE SEEN group for Black employees. We heard there’s been a “big push with the firm looking to interview and hire more from historically Black universities like Howard.” Our interviewees had already noticed a progressive angle to the firm’s recent hiring: “In my intake, almost every single person was from a diverse background,” one said.
“In my intake, almost every single person was from a diverse background.”
“We’re most definitely not just a bunch of white guys,” a source laughed. “I’d say we’re one of the better BigLaw firms.” Shearman’s stats are largely in line with the New York market. “They’re actively working on getting more Black and ethnic minority associates in – the firm’s response after the George Floyd murder was good as everyone was engaging in conversation and speaking what was on their mind.” Juniors noted that “partners also reached out to talk and suggested organizations we should work with. Shearman already partners with the NAACP.” Alongside this, the firm’s made additional efforts to monitor everyone’s general mental health and wellbeing. “We get a lot of email reminders on Mindful Monday meditation sessions,” sources said. “People offer to just have a chat and open things up for everyone to talk to each other.”
The first stage: recruitment on and off campus
OCI applicants interviewed: undisclosed
Interviewees outside OCI: undisclosed
In 2019, 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,” hiring 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, hiring chair.
Applicants invited to second stage interview: undisclosed
When students visit for a callback interview, they typically meet with two partners or counsel and two associates. 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, hiring chair.
Summer associates 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. Most of the work a summer associate receives comes from their advisors. 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 program that delivers training on a variety of topics throughout the summer. Programs have covered the likes of legal research & writing, negotiation skills, a corporate bootcamp and a deposition workshop.
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, hiring 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: Describe the firm’s market position in three sentences or less. Which firms would you identify as your biggest competition?
David Beveridge: Our position in the market is that we are a global firm that works on the most complex cross-border transactions and disputes to help our clients achieve their business objectives.
CA: What is the greatest challenge facing the firm in the next decade? How about the legal market more generally?
DB: The practice of law is competitive and we have multiple competitors across the globe depending on what office and what practice you’re talking about but for us we are in the middle of executing our growth strategy and we are recruiting top notch lateral talent, as well as making internal promotions at quite a rapid pace. The key for us it to continue to attract top talent from the law schools, from the associate ranks and within the lateral market.
CA: Are there other developments in the firm’s immediate future you think our readers should be aware about?
DB: We’ve continued to execute on our strategy, to be agile and aligning with market opportunities. This strategy includes expanding our core practice areas with the greatest potential for growth in the firm; we focus on our geographic footprint, investing in talent, and doubling down on technology, wellness and flexible working. In 2020, as a result of the execution of our strategy, we experienced growth in our antitrust, leveraged finance, litigation and restructuring practices. We also significantly strengthened our DC, Middle East, and West Coast offices, and we had a new addition in Texas with the presence of our new office in Dallas. We’ve also increased our focus on industries such as technology and energy. Our corporate client base has grown significantly, and we’ve increased the proportion of our revenues which derive from our US businesses.
CA: Could you tell us more about any training programs in place or mentorship sessions to help promote homegrown associates on the path to partnership?
DB: Sure. Our associates are our most important asset and we spend a lot of time with our mentoring program developing that talent, and there’s also a lot of internal training. We have reshaped our mentoring program over the pandemic. We also have a senior associate training program in the sixth or seventh year, where we take them off-site and give them the skills they would need to develop as partners. We have a similar program, which differs in context for their third year. So, we’re trying to speak with our associates at key points during their career to make sure they’re progressing, and I think it’s worked pretty well. We’re constantly looking at ways to do the process better because like I said, our people, including our associates, are our most important asset.
CA: Given the size of the firm and its offices, which platforms are in place to ensure there’s a clear line of communication between senior management and associates?
DB: Prior to the pandemic, I would meet with groups of associates for breakfast around three to four times a year. We also have a number of affinity groups that we meet with, as well as meeting with the associate committee. Partly as a result of the pandemic, we’ve been making significant investments and solutions to streamline our work and to communicate better. So, for example, we have a program called Shearman Collaborates which is client collaboration sites, and that allows us to work together with our clients and that includes our associates. We have another program called Shearman Innovate which is a global program centred around supporting our associates and legal teams in the use of legal technology, and this helps a lot in the remote working environment.
CA: How has the firm weathered the pandemic? Has the pandemic affected the firm’s long-term strategy?
DB: The pandemic has caused us to accelerate our strategy, so it hasn’t changed it but it has made us look at a number of things in response. For example, the past year accelerated our focus on agile working and implementing a flexible remote working policy. We have sent a survey to our people including our associates, asking for their views on our return to the office. Their feedback will be an important step to helping better inform our policy and guiding principles. This will also help us recruit, develop and retain talent in all parts of the world. I think this will be one of the biggest effects of the pandemic as you will see more flexibility with technology and remote working.
CA: Which sectors/practice areas have been most affected? How has the firm responded to meet the demands of this?
DB: Well most of our firm was pretty busy throughout the year and activity levels in the first months of 2021 were the firm's best in over ten years. As you probably know, the market for global M&A in the US was significantly down in the first six months, and the energy sector – a strength of ours – was significantly affected by the pandemic. Though they have all recovered, they were affected by the pandemic for several months.
CA: What cultural changes have come about as a result of the pandemic?
DB: We’ve done a very good job of spending time together through Zoom. We’ve been doing a number of meetings and social events and spend time speaking with each other. This all varies by office since it’s a global firm, where we have 18 offices in 24 countries, so each office is dealing with a different environment with the pandemic. We have also established Thrive @ Shearman which provides our associates and people more broad resources to help them reach their highest potential in both their personal and professional lives. This included Covid-19 resources and initiatives such as a free Headspace plus members for all our people.
CA: As a result of the social unrest in the country since last year, does the firm have any set targets with regards to diversity?
DB: Well it’s a global law firm, so diversity & inclusion is a part of our fabric – it’s who we are and all that we do. We know that the success of our people and clients is inextricably bound and the perspective that everybody brings to the table is where the true value of diversity lies. So, 2020 as you pointed out, was a time where there was renewed dialogue and enhanced commitment to refocus efforts in diversity. We are proud of the advancements we are making but as a firm and a profession we have much more to do. We’ve had monthly open forum sessions, we had a global D&I network conference and retreat, we launched a number of new networking groups, and we also achieved Mansfield certification, to name just a few of the things we’ve done. We also have quite a diverse leadership team. We are proud to keep our D&I strategy, initiatives, and goals moving forward and our commitment and focus around diversity and inclusion remains non-negotiable.
Shearman & Sterling LLP
599 Lexington Avenue,
- Head Office: New York, NY
- Number of domestic offices: 7
- Number of international offices: 18
- Worldwide revenue: $861,026,000
- Main recruitment contact: Caroline Menes (firstname.lastname@example.org)
- Hiring partners: John Nathanson
- Diversity officer: Sandra Bang, Chief Diversity & Talent Strategy Officer
- Recruitment details
- Entry-level associates starting in 2021: 43 approx. (some offers still pending due to clerkships/other post-graduate plans)
- Clerking policy: Yes
- Summers joining/anticipated 2021: 58
- 1Ls: 4; 2Ls: 50; SEOs: 4
- Summers joining/anticipated 2021 split by office:
- New York: 38, Washington, DC: 4, Austin: 1, Houston: 3, Menlo Park: 2, Toronto: 2, Dallas: 3; San Francisco: 1
- Summer salary 2021:
- 1Ls: $ 3654/week
- 2Ls: $ 3654/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, 2021
District of Columbia
- Antitrust (Band 5)
- Litigation: General Commercial: Highly Regarded (Band 2)
- Tax (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)
- Corporate/M&A: The Elite (Band 4)
- Technology: Corporate & Commercial (Band 2)
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 4)
- FCPA (Band 5)
- Financial Services Regulation: Banking (Compliance) (Band 4)
- International Arbitration: Enforcement Spotlight Table
- International Arbitration: The Elite (Band 3)
- Projects: Mining & Metals (Band 1)
- Projects: Oil & Gas (Band 4)
- Projects: Power (Band 2)
- Projects: PPP (Band 3)
- Projects: Renewables & Alternative Energy (Band 5)
- Securities: Litigation (Band 3)
- Tax: Corporate & Finance (Band 5)
Visit Shearman & Sterling's careers page for more information.