This firm Sheppards its juniors to new heights through its “niche and boutique work.”
"We’re a true Californian firm,” one of our interviewees declared. What exactly does that mean, you may be thinking. While most of the firm's 12 domestic offices can be found in the Golden State, it isn't just about geographic reach. For Sheppard Mullins’ associates, it's all about the culture. “It’s overwhelmingly transparent and progressive,” one source enthused, while another beamed that “the firm is full of amazing human beings.” While culture was consistently highlighted as a key draw, our insiders drew equal attention to the perks of “being part of a well-oiled BigLaw machine while still get getting access to niche and boutique work.” And there’s no shortage of niches to get involved in at Sheppard Mullin.
“The firm is very focused on stable growth over time."
Nationwide, Chambers USAgives the firm a top ranking in Native American finance law, as well as high ratings in government contracts, healthcare, renewable & alternative energy projects, and oil & gas regulatory work. In its home state of California,Sheppard shines brightest with its seven offices attracting high rankings in everything from insurance, healthcare, and commercial litigation to antitrust and media & entertainment law. Outside of the sunny West Coast, junior associates join the ranks in Sheppard's bases in Dallas, DC, Chicago, and New Yorkwhile on the international stage the firm has a targeted presence in Brussels, London, Seoul, and Shanghai.
Strategy & Future
Having experienced three decades of year-on-year growth, it came as no surprise that sources expressed confidence in Sheppard’s future: “The firm is very focused on stable growth over time, which I appreciate makes for a workplace that is dependable and doesn't over-invest in any one practice or location,” one source told us. Interviewees were huge fans of the firm’s “steady and scalable growth,” citing recent lateral hires in healthcare and real estate, as well as the establishment of a new IPteam in DC. We were also told that the healthcare work has an increasing focus on the marijuana sector and antitrust is taking on more work relating to oil & gas. If any more evidence was needed of Sheppard’s positive trajectory, one need only look at its latest partner class, which was one of the largest in its history.
Most juniors could be found spread throughout the firm’s Californiaoffices: Century City, Del Mar, Los Angeles, Orange County, San Diego, San Francisco, and Silicon Valley. There was also a good chunk in New York, and a few in Chicago and DC. One associate on our list was classed as being purely ‘virtual’. The corporate and business trials teams take on the most juniors, with entertainment & tech, IP and labor & employment taking a good chunk too. A few could be found in antitrust, finance & bankruptcy, government & regulatory, real estate, and tax.
“It’s like a make-your-own-adventure group…”
The corporateteam has a “cool industry setup,” which allows “people with different specialties to get staffed together on a single deal - there’s so much crossover.” Industries juniors encounter include private equity, healthcare, energy, food & beverages, and esports/gaming. “It’s like a make-your-own-adventure group – if there’s an industry you really like working with, the firm encourages you to go into that space.” However, sources also made clear that “you’re not limited to a sector or industry – you can work across all sectors if you want that grind.” Juniors in this group can expect to run checklists, make calls, work on ancillaries, and oversee diligence. “But I’m also marking out sections of purchase agreements and taking first drafts of LCAs and bigger documents,” one junior highlighted, adding that “on one deal I became this one client’s point person. You can develop those kinds of relationships on smaller deals.”
Corporate clients: Oasis Materials Company, CareMount Medical, Technicolor Creative Services. Recently represented Snak-King in its acquisition of some assets under the Vitner’s brand.
“I’ve been able to get my hands on meaty transactions.”
Sheppard Mullin’s entertainment, technology and advertising practice is “very unique because we are basically one of the only firms that represents studios rather than individuals,” a source highlighted. The group deals with a vast variety of work including TV, film, fashion, podcasting, advertising, streaming, music, virtual reality and even metaverse work. The California offices unsurprisingly focus more on the entertainment work while New York mainly works within the advertising and technology transactions space. There are further niches such as “a lot of production work with companies who want to acquire the rights to media being adapted to TV and film.” When it comes to clients, there are “unfortunately no crazy stories, they’re just like regular corporate clients – usually most of the people I deal with tend to be in-house lawyers.” One junior told us: “I’ve really been able to get my hands on meaty transactions and I’m pretty much running everything from beginning to end with partners overseeing it. I’ve also been able to negotiate purchase agreements and put the papers together with deal terms.”
Entertainment, tech & advertising clients: Spotify, Sony Pictures Entertainment, Lionsgate, Peloton. Recently represented Amazon.com in its acquisition of MGM and its entire library of titles for $8.45 billion.
Associates at Sheppard Mullin have a “network of people that really care about your development,” a source agreed. Our insiders also rated partners for being “very focused on training and professional development. They’re always talking to you about it.” Though the usual program of networking and development events has been scuppered by Covid, there have been a “ton of seminars, training, CLEs, and meetings online to mitigate that.”
“You can see ahead of you at what your career could be if you wanted it.”
Junior associates are able to pick their own partner mentor which “you can switch once a year. I chose a partner who’s a really strong female role model for myself,” one junior shared. Picking your own partner mentor means juniors are able to get insight on their career, as well as “how to be an associate in the long-term and not burn out.” The accessibility of partnership also acts as a crystal ball – “you can see ahead of you at what your career could be if you wanted it.” Though some do leave at mid-level, partners “encourage you to stay at the firm to keep teams strong.” One interviewee even told us that “as far as Biglaw goes, I wouldn’t trade Sheppard Mullin at all. It’s the best you can get in this industry.” Their comments are reflected in our survey results where just under half of all associates intended to make partner – nearly double the market average.
Though sources conceded that it can be “difficult to get a sense of the culture when everyone is scattered remotely,” they also agreed that the firm was “down to earth and inclusive of all types of personalities.” Since working from home, “everyone stays in touch with big team meetings. Zooms can get pretty sizable with up to 40 of us on at any one time. It’s very fun and almost feels like you’re at a party. We crack jokes, talk industry, talk initiatives – we’ve actually got closer during the pandemic in a way.”
“I occasionally see the news guys and some celebrities walking through!”
Since returning to the office, interviewees told us the firm “wants to create a family type environment. They have happy hours, bring in food, and try to facilitate people getting to know each other.” Those in New York were keen to steer the conversation to their newly renovated office, which now includes a gym with Peloton bikes and a café – “it’s really bright and modern, very sleek.” Another added: “Jimmy Fallon is in the same building. I occasionally see the news guys and some celebrities walking through,” one source shared.
Hours & Compensation
Billable hours: 2,000 target
Of the 2,000 hours required for a full bonus, 1,850 need to be client billable. The remaining 150 can be made up of pro bono and business development activities such as marketing and article writing. Anyone who doesn’t hit 2,000 gets a scaled-down proportional bonus. All our interviewees had met the target, which was described as “doable – but challenging. It’s Biglaw, but it’s nothing unreasonable or grueling.” Most of our interviewees were grateful to report having experienced a limited number of lost weekends but acknowledged that “if there’s something urgent, you’re expected to do it. But that doesn’t happen much.”
Though we’ve heard salary grumbles from associates in the past, our interviewees were pleased to report that “there aren’t complaints anymore as they’ve raised everything to market.” The firm is historically “conservative with money,” we were told. “For example, they cut pay during Covid but gave it back at the end of the year when they realized they had the money to do so.” In fact, the only gripe we heard was that “you only get $25 dollars for dinner if you stay in the office late.” Tough!
Diversity, Equity & Inclusion
While sources did report on “a number of attorneys of color leaving the firm recently,” overall reports on the firm’s approach to DE&I were largely very positive. For example, one insider noted that “they’ve been pushing the ABLE program hard recently which works with police forces on community policing - they’re ahead of a lot of Biglaw firms.” The firm also scored highly in our survey for efforts to provide inclusivity training and for diverse staffing on cases/deals. In addition, Sheppard Mullin is Mansfield 4.0 certified.
“They’re ahead of a lot of Biglaw firms.”
When it comes to mental health, we heard the firm recognizes that “we can’t be a great full-service law firm if half of us are dropping from burnout.” A town hall meeting dedicated especially to the issue included “focus groups from which they got data and put together our Unplug and Recharge program.” The initiative gives attorneys 40 billable hours to use them in eight-hour blocks on “taking vacation, relaxing, or just taking a day off – they go towards your bonus too.” However, some felt that while the firm’s commitment and programming are “all good steps, the programming doesn't matter as much when you don't have time to utilize it because there is so much client-chargeable work to do.”
Sheppard Mullin’s pro bono work has “no ceiling on it. If you hit your billable minimum, everything is bonus eligible,” sources explained. Pro bono work at the firm has taken off in the past couple of years after the firm hired its first pro bono partner in 2020. We heard of people getting involved in asylum and immigration work, juvenile cases, real estate matters, non-profits work and even work helping creative individuals and institutions through an initiative in the Chicago office. We heard that partners are “very supportive – as long as you do the client matters you signed up for.” While it’s true that “you can’t blow off any deal for any other deal or case,” as long as juniors are hitting their billable minimum, “there’s no one berated for it – Sheppard Mullin prides itself on pro bono work and wants to encourage it.” Anyone who completes over 21 hours in a year gets a “sticker to put in your office window.” Interviewees had all completed more than that – stickers all round.
Pro bono hours
- For all US attorneys: 34,178
- Average per US attorney: 49.4
The first stage: recruitment on and off campus
OCI applicants interviewed: 941
Sheppard Mullin attends OCIs at schools around the country, but UCLA and USC are typically top feeder schools due to the firm’s presence in Southern California. Depending on the school, the firm may interview anywhere between ten and 150 students on campus. OCIs are conducted by a mix of partners and associates. Hiring sources at the firm tell us interviewers are evaluating candidates “on key characteristics such as communication, preparedness, academic credentials, prior work experience, technical skills, interest in our firm, interest in the law, leadership skills and drive.”
Top tips: “Do your homework to find out what practice areas are hiring and explain why you want to practice in those specific areas.” – hiring sources at the firm
At the callback stage, candidates meet with four to six attorneys – again, a mix of both partners and associates. If there’s enough time, candidates will also go for a meal with attorneys. “We use behavioral interview questions during our callback process,” hiring sources at the firm tell us. “The questions are aimed at distilling the candidate’s skills, client service and value, self-awareness, communication and critical thinking skills, as well as their ability to work in a team and self-manage.”
Top tips: “I would encourage you to find someone you can call in advance and talk to. If you’ve spoken to people at different offices, the firm thinks you’re really working for this.” – a junior associate
“Read up on different interviewing techniques and styles, attorney bios, practice areas, and firm clients in advance.” – hiring sources at the firm
Sheppard Mullin’s ten-week summer program starts off with a reception and two-day summer associate academy in LA. The firm tells us the program is “designed to acquaint students with the firm’s practice through hands-on work experience and lawyers through a variety of social activities and work assignments.” Each office has a work assignment coordinator to distribute pieces of work for the summers. These assignments are then reviewed and feedback is delivered at mid-summer and end-of-summer reviews. Sheppard Mullin also understands the importance of socializing and networking: “The summer is a time for you to get to know the firm and the firm to get to know you! Attend the events and lunches, build relationships, go to court or client meetings, and have fun.”
Top tips: “You need to be independent because you need to go out and get work via our free market system.” – a junior associate
“Demonstrate your ownership and ability to work hard – if you make a mistake, own up to it immediately and propose a solution.” – hiring sources at the firm
Associates advised candidates to “keep in mind that we hire summers by practice area, specifically for corporate, labor & employment, business trial and healthcare, as opposed to hiring you as a general summer associate.”
“There are no rainmakers here who play golf all week!” One junior associate told us. “Work is very important; the firm expects talented attorneys.”
Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton LLP
333 South Hope Street,
- Head Office: Los Angeles, CA
- Number of domestic offices: 12
- Number of international offices: 4
- Worldwide revenue: $1,010,000,000 (2021)
- Partners (US): 412
- Associates (US): 420
- Special counsel (US): 95
- Staff attorneys (US): 50
- Of counsel (US): 71
- Main recruitment contact: Caroline Menes (firstname.lastname@example.org)
- Hiring partner: Bess Sully (Chief Human Resources Officer)
- Diversity officer: Lois Durant (Chief Diversity & InclusionOfficer)
- Recruitment details
- Entry-level associates starting in 2022: 52
- Clerking policy: Yes
- Summers joining/anticipated 2022:
- 1L: 4; 2Ls: 50
- Summers joining/anticipated 2021 split by office:
- LA (Downtown): 6, LA (Century City): 8, Orange County, CA: 4, San Diego, CA (Downtown): 2, San Diego, CA (Del Mar): 6, San Francisco, CA: 3, Chicago, IL: 1, Dallas, TX: 5, Washington, DC: 7, New York, NY: 12
- Summer salary 2022:
- 1Ls: $4,135 per week
- 2Ls: $4,135 per week
- Split summers offered? CBC
- Can summers spend time in an overseas office? No
Main areas of work
Major Industry Focus: Aerospace and defense; blockchain technology and digital currency; construction; energy; fashion, apparel and beauty; food and beverage; healthcare; hospitality; insurance; life sciences; private wealth; retail.
Baylor University, Berkeley Law, Boston College, Boston University, BYU, Cornell, Columbia, Duke ,Emory, Fordham, George Mason, George Washington, Georgetown, Harvard, Howard, University of Illinois, Loyola Law, Michigan, Northwestern, Notre Dame, NYU, Pepperdine, Santa Clara, Southern Methodist University, Southwestern, Stanford, U Texas, UC Davis, UC Hastings, UC Irvine, UCLA, University of Chicago, UPenn, USC, USD, USF, UVA, Vanderbilt, Washington and Lee, Washington University, St. Louis plus several regional/ national/diversity job fairs.
Summer associate profile:
High academic achievement is a precondition to employment. But the firm is interested in more than that: it seeks associates who will succeed over the long term. It looks for associates who have the personal traits needed to become outstanding practicing lawyers: self-awareness, drive to succeed, capacity for hard work and an ability to work well with other people.
Summer program components:
The firm’s ten week summer program is structured to give students an idea of what life is like as an associate with the firm. Our summer associates do meaningful, billable work and work closely with partners and associates in various practice groups. Summer associates have opportunities to attend depositions and court appearances, participate in conference calls and negotiations, draft documents and sit in on meetings. All summer associates work on at least one pro bono project. We also offer comprehensive transactional and litigation training programs. Attorney mentors assist the students in a variety of ways throughout the summer, and we plan a well-balanced calendar of social events that gives students the opportunity to get to know our attorneys outside of the office as well as enjoy the geographic area in which they are working.
This Firm's Rankings in
USA Guide, 2022
- Antitrust (Band 3)
- Banking & Finance (Band 4)
- Bankruptcy/Restructuring (Band 4)
- Construction (Band 4)
- Healthcare (Band 2)
- Insurance: Insurer (Band 2)
- Intellectual Property: Patent Litigation (Band 5)
- Labor & Employment: The Elite (Band 3)
- Litigation: General Commercial: Highly Regarded (Band 2)
- Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations (Band 4)
- Media & Entertainment: Litigation (Band 4)
- Media & Entertainment: Transactional (Band 3)
- Real Estate: Zoning/Land Use (Band 3)
California: Los Angeles & Surrounds
- Corporate/M&A: Highly Regarded (Band 1)
California: San Diego
- Litigation: General Commercial (Band 2)
- Real Estate (Band 3)
District of Columbia
- Corporate/M&A & Private Equity (Band 4)
- Healthcare (Band 5)
- Construction (Band 4)
- Healthcare (Band 3)
USA - Nationwide
- Energy: Oil & Gas (Regulatory & Litigation) (Band 5)
- Government Contracts: The Elite (Band 2)
- Healthcare: Highly Regarded (Band 2)
- Leisure & Hospitality (Band 4)
- Native American Law: Finance (Band 1)
- Projects: Renewables & Alternative Energy (Band 3)
- Retail (Band 4)