Sidley Austin LLP - The Inside View

Whether you’re hoping to walk in presidential footsteps, or just looking for good work and culture alike, this “elite” Chicago-born outfit might fit you perfectly.

"If it was good enough for the Obamas,” a junior joked, “it was good enough for me.” The initial meeting place for Barack and Michelle also happens to be a global law firm that chalked up revenue of $2.46 billion in 2020, placing it among the top highest-grossing US firms once again. Originally a child of Chicago, the colossal Sidley of today was created via a merger with New York-founded Brown & Wood in 2001. The firm now boasts 20 offices across the globe, ten of which are in the US. At the time of our interviews, the largest cohort of its very long list of juniors was based in New York, closely followed by Chicago. Sizable classes also join Sidley’s teams in DC and Dallas; the remaining offices in Texas and along the West Coast recruit a few juniors each.

“It’s a prestigious name without the horrible excesses you get at other market-leading firms."

To get an idea of Sidley’s size and stature, scroll through its many (many) Chambers USA rankings. We’ll pick out the highlights: top prizes nationwide for appellate law, capital markets, international trade, investment funds, financial services regulation and transportation; market-leading status in its native Illinois for banking and finance, corporate/M&A, private equity, healthcare, insurance, IP and litigation among other practices; and top nods in DC for environment and healthcare law. Looking past the trophies and billions of dollars, associates sang the praises of Sidley’s culture. “It’s a prestigious name without the horrible excesses you get at other market-leading firms,” one suggested. Juniors we surveyed overwhelmingly agreed that they’d chosen the right firm, were happy in their current role, and that joining Sidley was good for their personal development.

Sidley was one of the strongest performers in our research this year, featuring in the top tier for Associate Satisfaction.>

The Work



Fourteen practice groups were represented on our junior associate list, with those splintered further into 32 different areas. Litigation proved most popular, followed by M&A, global finance, and investment funds. Work allocation tends to be pretty informal, with some variance by department and office: litigators in Chicago described a “free-market system. It’s self-service, you’re knocking on people’s doors.” Others in DC said “the firm really tries to carve out which associates will work for which clients.” While sources found that in Chicago “the work is pretty general, we do everything here,” other locations leaned more toward specific sectors. Oil and gas are unsurprisingly strong in Texas, with DC understandably the “main hub” for white-collar, appellate, government and regulatory issues. Team antitrust is also predominantly based there, working alongside a “strong Brusselsoffice.” Investment funds and securities litigation are more prevalent in New York.

“There are opportunities to test the waters in a lot of areas before fully committing to one.”

Litigation at Sidley includes commercial disputes, white-collar investigations, product liability, global arbitration, and securities and shareholder litigation. “There are opportunities to test the waters in a lot of areas before fully committing to one,” a junior noted. Commercial disputes proved most popular for fresh-faced associates: “We have lots of clients in the healthcare, insurance, and pharmaceutical spaces,” one said. “Then it runs the gamut of big Fortune 100 companies; nothing I work on could be cabined into anything specific, there’s such a big range.” Our sources also worked on ERISA and securities litigation cases. We heard from many who’d taken on “substantive” responsibility by drafting motions to compel, appeals and briefings for counterclaims. “I’ve not done as much document review as I’d have liked,” one junior joked. “80% of my work is researching and writing. There’s no shortage of substantive tasks available.” Discovery requests are another common feature here.

Litigation clients: Amgen, Bayer, the American Bar Association. Secured a win for the House of Representatives its challenge to the Trump administration’s diversion of $8.1 billion for the southern border wall.

Falling under the litigation banner, Sidley’s “elite” white-collar group represents both companies and individuals, with many high-profile former government figures practicing here. While other offices contribute to cases, DCis the epicenter.” Across internal investigations or government defense for companies, juniors found themselves progressing quickly. “My initial assignments made me feel like I was quickly operating above my year level,” one said. “I’ve never really had the typical document review of 4060 hours a week.” They and others were instead drafting witness interview questions, suggesting first terms, drafting interview outlines and managing the document review process. “We normally outsource doc review, so it’s rare that a Sidley associate would be doing what most other firms would consider first-year work,” a junior declared.

White-collar clients: Huawei, Best Buy, Johnson & Johnson. Acted for former Donald Trump campaign deputy chairman Rick Gates in connection with his indictment following the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

Juniors in the transactional wing of the firm were getting their fill of a broad spread of practices including M&A (private and public), global finance, investment funds, capital markets and private equity. Within global finance alone you can find banking, private credit, securitization, leveraged and acquisition finance, energy financing, transactional bankruptcy and private equity finance (the last of those is the focus in Dallas). “We’re on some precedent-setting deals,” one source highlighted. “It’s pretty diverse here – at some firms you only do fund financing, but I do a little bit of everything.” Chicago reportedly does more lender-side and banking representation than other bases. Sidley’s antitrust group technically falls under corporatebut is “its own beast” and does mostly merger and unilateral conduct work “for the who’s who of corporate America.” Juniors there counseled on regulatory advice for clients with “ongoing issues requiring constant diligence.”

Corporate clients: Volkswagen, Salesforce, Hennessy Capital Acquisition. Represented Broadhaven Capital Partners as financial adviser to Intercontinental Exchange in its pending $11 billion acquisition of mortgage software provider Ellie Mae.

Career Development



Sidley Austin “does a good job with workshops” and other practice-specific training sessions, including deposition tutorials and trial workshops for junior litigators and bi-weekly meetings in the finance group to “talk about trends or a prominent transaction that’s recently been in the headlines.” That said, our sources felt their development came mainly through daily practice. “Formal training does all it can,” one offered, “but the real training happens on matters.” Sources praised attentive partners who “want to see us associates succeed,” and are “very receptive to questions. They want to engage and speak about issues.” Litigation juniors also welcomed associate and partner mentors who “check in regularly to make sure that I’m getting the right opportunities and introduce me to people if I’m looking for a specific type of work.”

“Formal training does all it can, but the real training happens on matters.”

Sources commended the firm for providing “resources to help people leave” if partnership isn’t their goal. “They’re neither trying to force people out nor to keep people if they’re not happy.” Another added: “If I were to stay and become partner at a large law firm, Sidley would be the place to do it.” Associates aiming for partner will start to jump through the relevant hoops around fifth year; the earliest they can hope for partner status is year nine. One source noted that while information about the track “is not given in a super explicit way from management,” it’s not hidden either. “If I asked about something, I could find it out.”

Hours & Compensation



Billable hours: 2,000 target

Associates become bonus-eligible if they hit the 2,000-hour goal, 200 hours of which can be comprised of eligible pro bono, diversity and inclusion, training or other business development/knowledge management work. Sources note that tastier (above market) bonuses are available if you work past 2,400 hours in the year. “It’s BigLaw, so it’s always demanding,” one source found. “That said, Sidley makes it as comfortable as possible.” Others agreed: “The firm is pretty good about letting us maintain a work/life balance. They respect associates’ time and take a holistic view rather than quantitatively drilling hours out of you.” A slow start need not be a reason to panic either. “I wasn’t very busy for the first three months despite my best efforts,” a second-year told us. “Partners kept assuring me it was okay, and it happens to many people who struggle ramping up in litigation.”

“Sidley makes it as comfortable as possible.”

For those who’ve taken a break from the firm for whatever reason, “there’s a ramp down/ramp up period where for three months [total: one month before leave and two months after it] your target is only 75% of normal. It’s really nice and alleviates stress so you’re not coming in and stacking up really quickly.” Junior sources felt expectations were generally reasonable. For some, billing ten hours “would be a busy day,” whereas others (in up-and-down transactional practices especially) “could do 16 or 17 hours if there was a closing.” Weekend work is reportedly discretionary and “if you use your time wisely in the week, it’s very possible to have a life outside the office.” Some preferred to use every day to get things done: “I push work to the weekend now by choice,” one junior litigator shared.

Pro Bono



Our sources overwhelmingly felt the firm was committed to pro bono work. “It’s a huge practice that’s taken extremely seriously here,” one offered. “You’re heavily encouraged to participate in pro bono.” Sidley associate orientation comes with a “big presentation” on how to get opportunities and “shows what the process is if you want to bring in an organization important to you.” While pro bono hours are not capped, “some eyebrows might be raised if you’re doing 500.” We did however hear of sources doing upwards of 300 hours.

“You’re heavily encouraged to participate in pro bono work.”

Typical pro bono work for our sources included landlord/tenant disputes, veterans’ rights cases, capital punishment partnerships with Equal Justice, workshops for asylum applications, and cases born from President Trump’s travel ban. “We do quite a few criminal appeals,” one source said. “The DC Superior Court has started appointing cases for us to handle.” Over in Chicago our interviewees had opportunities to work on Section 1983 cases (civil action for deprivation of rights).

Pro bono hours

  • For all (US) attorneys: undisclosed
  • Average per (US) attorney: undisclosed

Culture, Diversity & Inclusion



"I think Sidley Austin is supportive, friendly, and professional,” said one source. “People are nice and genuinely care about your life.” Another added: “It’s not a firm that’s harsh or abrasive, people are genuinely nice and outgoing.” Perhaps not what you’d expect from a firm the size of Sidley, but that might come down to its origins outside the hectic Big Apple. “What I liked about Sidley was the Midwestern values,” one of our interviewees told us. “It’s a family-friendly place, which you wouldn’t expect from BigLaw.”

“It’s not a firm that’s harsh or abrasive, people are genuinely nice and outgoing.”

This family-friendly dynamic extended to the social scene. “Lots of partners have kids and events at Sidley are often family-oriented,” including the regular Chicago Halloween party complete with trick or treating between offices for kids: “It was adorable!” Junior associates found the firm runs the “right amount” of socials, “a few holiday events and occasional lunches. Sidley is quite a grown-up firm and partners know we have other obligations so there’s no unnecessary facetime at events.” Having gone through orientation together, our sources hung out regularly with their classmates: “It’s the norm for people to stay close with people in their year.”

Sidley also encourages close connections for diverse attorneys, who receive a mentor through the Diversity Mentoring Scheme.“The firm is taking it seriously while recognizing there’s more to do,” one reflected. “It’s key to the firm’s mission to encourage and affirm diversity.” There are also 1L mentorship programs for diverse students and mentoring and financial support for candidates from nontraditional backgrounds. Our sources championed the firm’s “promotion and retention of women. There’s never been a sentiment that having kids and family is a difficult proposition here.” Other initiatives – such as the Women’s Committee in Houston running video conferences for female attorneys, and new parents in Dallas getting their own mini-fridge for storing breast milk and a dedicated Mother’s Room – also received commendation from juniors.

Strategy & Future



Sources found the firm “a bit conservative in terms of not wanting to be leaders with workplace changes,” but commended their prudence elsewhere. “We’re financially conservative and carry little to no debt. We’ll be in a very strong position post-COVID because we’ve been so resilient and will continue to be so.” It’s worth nothing that Sidley was not one of the firms that cut associate pay as the pandemic hit in 2020.

“We’ll be in a very strong position post-Covid.”

Get Hired



The first stage: recruitment on and off campus

OCI applicants interviewed: 2,600

Interviewees outside OCI: data not separated from figure above

Sidley interviews at more than 30 law schools and 15 job fairs across the US. Each office decides on which schools it will interview at and how many students it will aim to see.

A mix of partners and associates conduct the OCIs. “We try to engage alumni of the law school where we are doing OCI,” says Jennifer Connelly, Sidley’s national legal recruiting director, “as we feel that fosters a natural connection with the students.” Interviewers use behavioral based questions, which, according to Connelly “allows us to best understand past decisions and how those decisions can help gauge future performances.” Interviewers also want to see candidates who can demonstrate their leadership skills.

Top tips for this stage:

“I'm looking for someone who I can see myself working late nights with.” – a second-year junior associate

“Come prepared to talk about anything listed on your resume and be thoughtful regarding questions about the firms in which you are interviewing.” – recruiting director Jennifer Connelly

Callbacks

Applicants invited to second stage interview: 911

Callbacks also vary office to office, but candidates typically spend two to three hours in one-on-one interviews with partners and associates. There may also be a lunch or dinner with some junior associates. Behavioral questions are still on the table at this point, but interviewers will likely want more detail on candidates’ practice area interests. Connelly says that at this stage “we’re looking for candidates who stand out from the crowd – those who are able to best articulate their interest in the firm, while also demonstrating that they bring exceptional experiences and skills to their practice areas of interest.”

Top tips for this stage:

“Reach out to the lawyers you met at OCI or to Legal Recruiting with any follow up questions you have about your visit.” – recruiting director Jennifer Connelly

Summer program

Offers: 434

Acceptances: 173

Sidley summers are encouraged to get experience in different practice groups – again, the program varies office to office. Connelly advises associates to “use every opportunity during the summer to meet as many lawyers and learn as much about the firm and the practice as possible.” There’s a centralized assignment system but summers can also take work directly from attorneys. At the end of the program, associates’ assignment to a particular practice group will vary – you guessed it – by office.

Top tips for this stage:

“It’s always a lot of fun, but it’s good to make sure all the summers know that they don't have to attend every single event.” – a second-year junior associate

“Work on projects that interest you the most, but also take a chance to do something in a practice area that is unfamiliar to you.” recruiting director Jennifer Connelly

 

Sidley Austin LLP

One South Dearborn,
Chicago,
IL 60603
Website www.sidley.com

787 Seventh Avenue,
New York,
NY 10019

  • Head offices: Chicago, IL; New York, NY
  • Number of domestic offices: 10
  • Number of international offices: 10
  • Worldwide revenue: $2.219 billion
  • Partners (US): 563
  • Associates (US): 828
  • Contacts  
  • Main recruitment contact: Jennifer L Connelly (jlconnelly@sidley.com)
  • Diversity officer: Sally L Olson
  • Recruitment details 
  • Entry-level associates starting in 2021: 155
  • Clerking policy: Yes
  • Summers joining/anticipated 2021: 161
  • Summer salary 2021:
  • 1Ls: $3,700/week
  • 2Ls: $3,700/week
  • Split summers offered? Case by case

Main areas of work



Services: Corporate and finance; employment; international trade; IP and technology; litigation, disputes and investigations; regulatory and government affairs; restructuring; tax
Industries: Agribusiness; energy; financial services; hospitality; insurance; investment funds; life sciences; media and entertainment; real estate; REITs; technology

Firm profile



 Sidley provides a broad range of legal services to meet the needs of our diverse client base. The strategic establishment of our offices in the key corporate and financial centers of the world has enabled us to represent a broad range of clients that includes multinational and domestic corporations, banks, funds and financial institutions. With over 2,000 lawyers in 20 offices around the world, talent and teamwork are central to Sidley’s successful results for clients in all types of legal matters, from complex transactions to ‘bet the company’ litigation to cuttingedge regulatory issues.

Recruitment



Law schools attending for OCIs in 2021:
University of California, Berkeley, School of Law; The University of Chicago Law School; Columbia Law School; DePaul University College of Law; Duke University School of Law; Fordham Law School; Georgetown University Law Center; The George Washington University Law School; Harvard Law School; UC Hastings College of Law; Howard University School of Law; University of Houston Law Center; University of Illinois College of Law; University of Iowa College of Law; Chicago-Kent College of Law; UCLA School of Law; Loyola University School of Law; Loyola Law School, Los Angeles; University of Michigan Law School; University of Minnesota Law School; New York University School of Law; Northwestern University School of Law; University of Notre Dame Law School; University of Pennsylvania Law School; University of Southern California Gould School of Law; SMU Dedman School of Law; Stanford Law School; The University of Texas School of Law; University of Virginia School of Law; Yale Law School

Recruitment outside OCIs:
Southeastern Minority Job Fair, Penn Regional Job Fair, On Tour Interview Programs, Vanderbilt Job Fair, Bay Area Diversity Career Fair, Cornell Job Fair, Loyola Patent Job Fair, Lavender Law Career Fair, NEBLSA Job Fair, Midwest-California-Georgia Consortium, CCBA Minority Job Fair, BC/BU Job Fair

Summer associate profile:
Sidley seeks candidates who have demonstrated academic success and possess strong leadership and interpersonal qualities. The firm looks for a diverse group of individuals who are motivated by highly sophisticated legal work practiced in a collegial and supportive environment.

Summer program components:
Sidley’s summer associate program is an invaluable window into its practice and firm culture. Participants select projects that interest them and perform legal work under lawyer supervision. An essential component of Sidley’s summer program is the opportunity to learn and develop professional skills. Hands-on training includes detailed reviews of each summer associate’s work product, as well as more formal training programs such as writing seminars, a mock trial and a mock negotiation exercise. Each summer associate is assigned senior associates and partners to provide guidance and each participant receives a formal review at the midpoint of the summer program.

Social media



Recruitment website: sidley.com/careers
Twitter: @SidleyLaw
Facebook: sidleyaustinllpofficial
Linkedin: sidley-austin

This Firm's Rankings in
USA Guide, 2021

Ranked Departments

    • Banking & Finance (Band 4)
    • Bankruptcy/Restructuring (Band 3)
    • Capital Markets: Debt & Equity (Band 3)
    • Corporate/M&A: Private Equity: The Elite (Band 4)
    • Labor & Employment (Band 4)
    • Life Sciences (Band 3)
    • Litigation: General Commercial: The Elite (Band 4)
    • Litigation: Securities (Band 2)
    • Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations (Band 3)
    • Media & Entertainment: Transactional (Band 3)
    • Technology: Transactions (Band 3)
    • Corporate/M&A: The Elite (Band 4)
    • Corporate/M&A: The Elite (Band 4)
    • Real Estate (Band 3)
    • Tax (Band 3)
    • Antitrust (Band 5)
    • Environment (Band 1)
    • Healthcare (Band 2)
    • Healthcare: Pharmaceutical/Medical Products Regulatory (Band 1)
    • Intellectual Property: Litigation (Band 2)
    • Litigation: General Commercial: The Elite (Band 3)
    • Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations (Band 3)
    • Telecom, Broadcast & Satellite (Band 2)
    • Antitrust (Band 2)
    • Banking & Finance (Band 1)
    • Bankruptcy/Restructuring (Band 2)
    • Corporate/M&A & Private Equity (Band 1)
    • Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation (Band 2)
    • Energy & Natural Resources (Band 3)
    • Environment (Band 2)
    • Healthcare (Band 3)
    • Healthcare: Pharmaceutical/Medical Products Regulatory (Band 1)
    • Immigration (Band 2)
    • Insurance: Dispute Resolution: Reinsurance (Band 1)
    • Insurance: Transactional & Regulatory (Band 1)
    • Intellectual Property (Band 1)
    • Litigation: General Commercial (Band 1)
    • Litigation: Securities (Band 1)
    • Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations (Band 2)
    • Real Estate (Band 2)
    • Tax (Band 2)
    • Technology & Outsourcing (Band 3)
    • Bankruptcy/Restructuring: Highly Regarded (Band 1)
    • Corporate/M&A: Highly Regarded (Band 2)
    • Insurance: Transactional & Regulatory (Band 2)
    • Intellectual Property: Patent (Band 4)
    • Litigation: General Commercial: Highly Regarded (Band 2)
    • Litigation: Securities (Band 3)
    • Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations: The Elite (Band 5)
    • Real Estate: Mainly Corporate & Finance (Band 3)
    • Tax (Band 3)
    • Banking & Finance (Band 3)
    • Capital Markets: Debt & Equity (Band 4)
    • Corporate/M&A: The Elite (Band 3)
    • Litigation: General Commercial (Band 2)
    • Antitrust (Band 4)
    • Appellate Law (Band 1)
    • Banking & Finance (Band 5)
    • Bankruptcy/Restructuring: The Elite (Band 4)
    • Capital Markets: Equity: Manager Counsel (Band 3)
    • Capital Markets: Investment Grade Debt: Issuer Counsel (Band 3)
    • Capital Markets: Investment Grade Debt: Manager Counsel (Band 2)
    • Capital Markets: Securitization: ABS (Band 2)
    • Capital Markets: Securitization: RMBS (Band 1)
    • Capital Markets: Structured Products (Band 2)
    • Corporate Crime & Investigations: The Elite (Band 3)
    • Corporate/M&A: The Elite (Band 4)
    • Derivatives (Band 2)
    • E-Discovery & Information Governance (Band 3)
    • Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation (Band 4)
    • Energy: Electricity (Regulatory & Litigation) (Band 4)
    • Energy: Electricity (Transactional) (Band 4)
    • Energy: Oil & Gas (Regulatory & Litigation) (Band 3)
    • Energy: Oil & Gas (Transactional) (Band 2)
    • Environment (Band 2)
    • ERISA Litigation (Band 3)
    • FCPA (Band 5)
    • Financial Services Regulation: Broker Dealer (Compliance & Enforcement) (Band 1)
    • Financial Services Regulation: Consumer Finance (Compliance) (Band 2)
    • Healthcare: The Elite (Band 3)
    • Hedge Funds (Band 1)
    • Insurance: Dispute Resolution: Insurer (Band 3)
    • Insurance: Transactional & Regulatory (Band 2)
    • Intellectual Property (Band 3)
    • International Arbitration: Enforcement Spotlight Table
    • International Arbitration: The Elite (Band 2)
    • International Trade: Customs (Band 1)
    • International Trade: Intellectual Property (Section 337) (Band 4)
    • International Trade: Trade Remedies & Trade Policy (Band 1)
    • Leisure & Hospitality (Band 4)
    • Life Sciences (Band 2)
    • Life Sciences: Regulatory/Compliance (Band 1)
    • Privacy & Data Security: The Elite (Band 3)
    • Private Equity: Buyouts: Mid-Market (Band 3)
    • Product Liability & Mass Torts: The Elite (Band 2)
    • Product Liability: Consumer Class Actions (Band 2)
    • Projects: LNG (Band 2)
    • Projects: Power & Renewables: Transactional (Band 2)
    • Projects: Renewables & Alternative Energy (Band 5)
    • Real Estate (Band 3)
    • Registered Funds (Band 3)
    • REITs (Band 2)
    • Securities: Litigation (Band 3)
    • Securities: Regulation: Enforcement (Band 2)
    • Tax: Corporate & Finance (Band 3)
    • Transportation: Rail (for Railroads) (Band 1)