Chicago native Sidley Austin has successfully expanded across the US and the world thanks to its no-nonsense, hard-working culture.
INTRODUCING one of Chicago’s finest. Juniors declared that “Sidley has the best combination of prestige, quality of work, and culture” the Windy City has to offer, along with “a balance of top-flight work and a family-friendly environment.” Illinois is this firm's spiritual home, but it also has big offices in New York, DC, Texas and on the West Coast, as well as abroad, particularly in London and Hong Kong. Associates in California were drawn to “the wide range of practice groups on offer, from bankruptcy to litigation to employment.” Different offices have different focuses – for example DC is heavy on litigation, while Houston leans more toward transactions.
Chambers USA rates Sidley’s work in appellate law, securitization, environment, financial regulation, international trade, hedge funds, and product liability – and those are just the areas with top rankings nationwide. There are also plenty of rankings at the regional level in New York, California, DC, and Texas. But Illinois is where the firm shines brightest: it gets top rankings for antitrust, banking & finance, corporate/M&A, environment, insurance, IP, litigation, bankruptcy/restructuring, energy, labor & employment, real estate, and tax. Phew! Sidley's prestige and market standing were a boon to juniors. One said: “I have the utmost confidence I made the right choice and that it will pay dividends whether I stay at the firm or go elsewhere.”
Sidley's large annual incoming first-year classes split far and wide across its offices: at the time of our research there were 120 juniors in Chicago, 105 in New York, 45 in DC, 28 in LA, 21 in Houston, 18 in Dallas, 13 in Century City, nine in Boston, eight in Palo Alto, and seven in San Francisco. Juniors were also spread between a mighty 27 groups, but many of these take rookies in single figure numbers. Litigation and M&A account for two-fifths of juniors between them, followed by global finance, investment funds, capital markets, real estate, and insurance.
“Whether we’re defending individuals or corporations, it’s intellectually stimulating.”
Chicago’s commercial litigation team acts for “large institutional clients and Fortune 500 companies.” Juniors told us they do “a lot of research and draft initial versions of discovery motions. Right now on my computer I have the first draft of a response to a motion to dismiss.” Because of the office’s “strong hedge fund and derivatives group, there can be overlap between their work and our investigations and white-collar work.”DC is an investigations and white-collar hub. The Supreme Court and appellate group is based here too, although juniors told us work in this area is hard to come by. Our interviewees enjoyed their white-collar work though – “whether we’re defending individuals or corporations, it’s intellectually stimulating.” Juniors “can definitely expect some doc review,” and LA associates doing investigations work are kept busy “putting interview outlines together, making chronologies, and handling data and document requests from the government.” There wasn’t so much writing involved, these sources said, but they jumped at the chance to participate in interviews. “The partner leads, but I get to ask additional questions,” one source said. Besides white-collar work, LA’s litigation group also handles “everything from consumer class actions to regular contract disputes.”
Becoming a media and entertainment specialist is a popular and therefore competitive undertaking. Sidley's media maestros tell us how they broke into the area and explore the trends that are the shaping the work conducted in it. Read on >>
Litigation clients: Honda, Amazon, and Citibank. Won a $500 million case challenging the federal government’s tariff reclassification of the Ford Transit Connect.
The M&A team works for “a mix of public and private companies.” Public company M&A in Chicago involves large deal teams, meaning “more traditionally junior” tasks for rookies, like “diligence, helping draft smaller ancillary documents, advancing the checklist, and working with specialists.” Interviewees found they got more responsibility on private equity deals. “As a third-year I ran two deals on my own with the partner overseeing me and a first-year," one source said. "I drafted the purchase agreement, the client was calling me directly, and I was calling the other side.” As well as public M&A and private equity deals, in New York there's “fund formation and capital markets work.” One source “second-chaired the negotiation process and attended live negotiations.” In Houston, “most M&A is in the oil and gas area and a significant portion relates to the airline industry.”
M&A clients: private equity firm Apollo, luxury department store Nordstrom, and hotel company Starwood. Advised Singapore's sovereign wealth fund GIC on its $2.9 billion acquisition of tech company Neustar.
Work allocation is fluid in both groups, with a handful of staffing partners assigning work to rookies. This evolves into a “quasi-free market system” whereby associates submit “rough” workload reports every week or two. Most agreed this works well, although “you have to be picky.” In M&A, “if additional work pops up, partners want to staff associates who were on the original deal. It can be difficult to honor all those commitments.” A DC litigator recommended being proactive to get what you want: “I went to a very respected senior and said, ‘Hey, I know you're the prodigy around here, so throw some work my way.’”
The global finance group takes a different approach, with juniors assigned to ‘pods’ of up to five partners and seniors. The pods are “training wheels” for getting work – the idea is for juniors to eventually branch out. “I started working outside of my pod within the first month,” one interviewee said. Associates described a “traditional, Wall Street” practice owing much to its financial institution clients. In Chicago associates might see syndicated and leverage finance, securitization, acquisition finance, structured finance, hedge fund work, and inter-company loans. Just how ‘global’ is the work? “I work primarily with people in Chicago,” one interviewee reported, though others said they'd worked with London a lot. Another wanted “to do more China-facing work, but you have to be careful. They’re like, ‘Awesome, why don’t you work on this highly bespoke Asia agreement from scratch?’” Finance associates praised the group’s peer-to-peer program, where juniors are paired with peers at clients, with interactions ranging from the pure professional to "happy hours or ball games.”
Finance clients: Mercedes, J.P. Morgan, and Deutsche Bank. Represented investment firm Castlelake in the purchase of a $6 billion minority interest in the Signet credit card portfolio.
Associates figured making partner at Sidley is as hard as anywhere in BigLaw. One LA junior reflected on the numbers: “I came in with 22 people, and by the end of year eight there’ll be two or three of us.” Where are all those lawyers going? Well, a finance associate might “go in-house at a financial institution or Fortune 500 company.” Some litigators “go to do clerkships, but the bulk go to other firms.” A Chicago associate recalled a colleague who moved out of the city: “They emailed a partner they’d never talked to at a Milwaukee firm. They were like, ‘You’re coming from Sidley in Chicago?’ and hired him within a week.”
New starters gather in Chicago for a two-week orientation and then each practice group runs its own training. Over five years, litigators “will argue a mock motion, depose a mock expert, and go through discrete elements of a case.” At the end of their first year, M&A juniors attend 'corporate college,' “a week-long overview of everything you could want.” Finance’s monthly training got mixed reviews. “It can be a bit bland,” one interviewee felt, while another found a recent session on drafting guarantees “invaluable. The partner went line by line.” Juniors are also assigned two mentors when they start at the firm “to help make sure you’re getting interesting work.”
Diversity & Inclusion
Diverse associates get an additional partner mentor “so you have three people to talk to.” But some sources questioned the mentoring program. “I don’t feel any of my mentors have mentored me," one reflected, "so there are issues with making sure I’m being integrated on matters.” Partners on the diversity committee monitor associates’ hours every year “to make sure everyone is getting involved in client pitches.”
A litigator recalled interviewing with women partners: “It was encouraging to see they’d established careers and balanced work with family.” Another noted: “The corporate group has a lot of work to do – there are only a few women partners in Chicago.” Some said critically that there “isn’t enough emphasis on retention” of diverse associates generally, and noted “a much stronger emphasis on diverse recruiting.”
Chicago associates described Sidley as “a traditional Midwestern firm with a hard-work ethic.” One said: “Sitting with partners often feels like being in law school.” Is that good or bad? “It’s collegial,” they confirmed, “but it can veer into cold at times.” Brrrr! It's good juniors can stay warm with business-casual attire – “it makes a difference in the Chicago winters!” The firm even introduced a jeans-on-Friday policy recently, which juniors couldn’t help poking fun at. “Lots of firms already do that," one said. "Sometimes we’re slower to adopt modern practices.” But being “old school” has its benefits. “People really care about family time," one junior observed. "I was planning to take two weeks off after my son was born, but multiple people told me to take the full four weeks.”
“A traditional Midwestern firm with a hard-work ethic.”
DC sources noticed “a definite similarity” between their office and Chicago. New Yorkers also thought “the culture from Chicago permeates the office – doing high-quality legal work for high-profile clients. And the partners roll up their sleeves and work alongside you.” Things are a little different on the West Coast. In a good way. “We are very much an LA firm" in terms of culture, one junior felt. For example, “most people work from home for one or two days.” The California offices' smaller size also means “you have more interaction with partners and clients.” Across all the offices there’s “definitely not a party culture,” but LA associates enjoy happy hours “every Thursday in the downtown office and every Friday in Century City.” In Houston “everyone from staff to attorneys gets together for lunch on Fridays.”
Hours & Compensation
Our associate sources told us that they are required to bill 1,800 hours annually, but one associate's perception was that “if you don't hit 2,000, you're getting zero” as far as bonuses are concerned. One DC junior told us:“I haven’t heard of anyone who didn’t meet that target.”Maybe try talking to this LA junior: “It hasn’t been achievable for at least half of us...” A recent change allows associates to count 50 hours of professional development time toward the target. Some do end up billing over 2,000 hours and according to a finance associate it’s because “there’s an expectation to work at full capacity for the whole year.”
“It can feel like you’re juggling a bazillion balls and drinking from a fire hose.”
And those finance associates know what they’re talking about. In the “fast-paced” global finance practice, “it can feel like you’re juggling a bazillion balls and drinking from a fire hose.” That said, in Chicago, “more people are out of the office than not by 7pm or 7:30pm. You’re not gonna find us here till 2am, which you might in New York.” One New Yorker confirmed that's true: “I’m in the office all day all night when it’s busy, and I’ve had to pull all-nighters two or three times.” A corporate associate added: “I worked most weekends this year.” There are “crazy days when you’re billing over 12 hours,” for litigators too, “but thankfully those have been rare.” Associates should be prepared to pick up the phone after heading home too. One told us: “It does put a poor taste in your mouth if you get a call at 10pm. Just send a damn email!”
Assisting on Supreme Court cases was a pro bono highlight for DC associates. For another it was a landlord/tenant case: “I got to appear in the DC Superior Court twice and conduct an oral argument.” We did hear of “rare instances when people have been told not to do pro bono if they’re on an intense case” in the capital, but in New York “a lot of associates are able to take it on without any tacit eyebrow-raising.” Associates can count up to 200 hours of pro bono as billable once they reach the 1,800 hour requirement. One LA source told us: “I billed about 500 pro bono hours, and I think every litigation junior has billed at least 200.” LA also has a pro bono fellowship for first-years: before starting at the firm, they spend up to six weeks at a partner organization like Lambda Legal, the ACLU, or the US Olympics Committee.
Pro bono hours
- For all (US) attorneys: 138,804
- Average per (US) attorney: 75
Strategy & Future
Associates thought “the firm is conservative about the risks it takes going into new markets,” but that hasn’t slowed its growth or success in any way – in 2017 the firm surpassed $2 billion in global revenue. Interviewees also noticed “a bigger focus on trying to get private equity clients” in the corporate practices.
The first stage: recruitment on and off campus
OCI applicants interviewed: 2,300
Interviewees outside OCI: undisclosed
Sidley interviews at more than 30 law schools and ten 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
Applicants invited to second stage interview: undisclosed
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
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
Interview with executive committee member Anne Rea
CA: Which practices have been performing especially well recently for Sidley?
Anne Rea: In 2018 we had a very strong year across the firm with double digit profit growth and strong demand in both the US and in Europe and Asia. In particular, we experienced significant growth in some of our most strategic practices including capital markets, energy, M&A and private equity, and a significant uptick in restructuring. We added to our FinTech initiative and our shareholder activism defense practices, and hired top white collar and regulatory and appellate lawyers from government. As a result of these growth initiatives, we grew in virtually every location we have around the world – New York, Washington, Chicago, California, Texas, Boston, London and Asia.
At this point we are one of only four law firms globally that have achieved annual revenue greater than $2 billion, average profits per equity partner exceeding $2.2 million and average compensation for all partners of more than $1.5 million. (The other three firms are Kirkland & Ellis, Skadden and Latham & Watkins.) We view ourselves as distinct from these other firms in different ways, particularly in our culture, but in terms of financial success Sidley Austin is one of the top firms in its global reach, size of practice, and being able to grow while maintaining strong profitability. Our strength and stability is the bedrock on which we will build for future generations of lawyers.
CA: Are there any broader trends that are currently shaping the volume or type of work conducted in any of those practices?
AR: As we look ahead, we’re focused on the political uncertainty and the potential economic challenges. We’ve been at the height of a growth market for some while, and at some point markets will turn. Sidley is built for the long term, with a proven ability to pivot as the world economy changes. Rather than limiting our business model to a handful of practices and offices, our vision is to have a global law firm that meets the full range of client needs in three broad areas – transactional, litigation, and regulatory & enforcement. By having both a global reach and specialized knowledge, we can serve clients across key industries where we know their business as well as they do. We are doing a great deal of work in industries like financial services and insurance, which are huge capital providers, and life sciences, which is driving significant technology, transactional, IP and litigation opportunities. Energy is obviously a fulcrum powering a large part of the global expansion. Our ability to be in key geographic and commercial centers across the world with 20 offices and our depth of practices lets us do great in up-markets and we also do well in down-markets. We saw that with the financial crisis in 2008 and we’ve seen it repeatedly since – Sidley been around for more than 150 years!
CA: Which practices or sector focuses has the firm earmarked for growth over the next year and why? And offices?
AR: We have 20 offices now, and our goal is to expand those offices and practices. If markets turn materially, our restructuring practice is ready. I also think the private equity and the mergers and acquisition practice is going to continue to be active, and we will see activity in some areas in the capital markets. Our funds practice continues to be very strong, and again our view is that it will be strong through different market cycles. The team is very nimble and used to dealing with changing markets and conditions. And we have a global practice in international trade – no matter what happens with tariffs or trade wars, we seem to end up on one side of the table.
CA: How do you think the profession has changedsince you started out practicing as a lawyer?
AR: I joined Sidley in 1984 and it doesn’t seem like 35 years! I was attracted to the firm because Sidley has exciting top tier practices, it has a supportive and collaborative culture, and it has a commitment to diversity that made me proud to join and makes me proud to help lead this firm today. One of our highlights this year is that we’ve added two woman to our management committee, expanding the diversity of the firm’s leadership. And for the 3rd year in a row in 2018 we were honored at the Chambers Diversity Women in Law Awards, this year receiving the ‘Outstanding Firm in Advancing Gender Diversity and Inclusion’ award. That commitment to diversity has been there from the very day I walked in the door. We just promoted a new partner class of 30 partners. 40% of the class are women and almost 22% are diverse, either ethnically or LGBT. Creating further opportunities in diversity is one of our core values. We’re also very focused on giving back to our community. Last year we contributed tens of thousands of hours and millions of dollars to charitable or pro bono organizations.
At base, Sidley is about having tremendous people, talented lawyers and staff, an inclusive culture, and being committed to the communities in which we serve. Those all come together to help us provide high quality teams. Our lawyers work together in a positive way because we emphasize collaboration and not competition. We focus on the client and we believe that our values are a business asset that make Sidley a great destination for our clients.
In terms of how the profession has changed, well, we used to not have email or voicemail so it was very different! But I think the values that define Sidley when I joined are very much the same today as they were 35 years ago. It’s about quality of practice and being a good colleague and person. Collaboration, respect and client service have always been at the heart of who we are. The world is more global now, but we’re very true to who we are and that has seen us in good stead for 150 years. As I look at the very talented lawyers joining us now, they should feel confident about the future we are creating for them.
CA: Looking back at your career and the knowledge you've gained, what is the most valuable lesson you’ve learned?
AR: This job is about performing at a very high level, which requires hard work. It’s important to have mentors who provide feedback and who you can to look to for advice and guidance. Foster relationships and build credibility and trust with others. Believe in yourself and value your life with your family, friends and colleagues at work. And keep a sense of humor — it helps you stay relaxed and maintain balance and perspective.
Sidley Austin LLP
One South Dearborn,
787 Seventh Avenue,
- 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
- Main recruitment contact: Jennifer L Connelly (firstname.lastname@example.org)
- Diversity officer: Sally L Olson
- Recruitment details
- Entry-level associates starting in 2019: 155
- Clerking policy: Yes
- Summers joining/anticipated 2019: 161
- Summer salary 2019:
- 1Ls: $3,700/week
- 2Ls: $3,700/week
- Split summers offered? Case by case
Main areas of work
Industries: Agribusiness; energy; financial services; hospitality; insurance; investment funds; life sciences; media and entertainment; real estate; REITs; technology
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.
This Firm's Rankings in
USA Guide, 2019
- Banking & Finance (Band 4)
- Bankruptcy/Restructuring (Band 4)
- Capital Markets: Debt & Equity (Band 3)
- IT & Outsourcing: Transactions (Band 3)
- Labor & Employment (Band 4)
- Life Sciences (Band 4)
- Litigation: General Commercial (Band 3)
- Litigation: Securities (Band 2)
- Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations (Band 2)
- Media & Entertainment: Transactional (Band 3)
District of Columbia
- Antitrust (Band 5)
- Environment (Band 1)
- Healthcare (Band 2)
- Healthcare: Pharmaceutical/Medical Products Regulatory (Band 2)
- Intellectual Property: Litigation (Band 2)
- Litigation: General Commercial (Band 3)
- Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations (Band 3)
- Telecom, Broadcast & Satellite (Band 2)
- Antitrust (Band 1)
- Banking & Finance (Band 1)
- Bankruptcy/Restructuring (Band 2)
- Corporate/M&A & Private Equity (Band 1)
- Energy & Natural Resources (Band 3)
- Environment (Band 2)
- Healthcare (Band 3)
- Insurance: Dispute Resolution: Reinsurance (Band 1)
- Insurance: Transactional & Regulatory (Band 1)
- Intellectual Property (Band 1)
- Labor & Employment: Employee Benefits & Compensation (Band 2)
- Litigation: General Commercial (Band 1)
- Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations (Band 1)
- Real Estate (Band 2)
- Tax (Band 2)
- Technology & Outsourcing (Band 3)
- Bankruptcy/Restructuring Recognised Practitioner
- Corporate/M&A: Highly Regarded (Band 2)
- Insurance: Transactional & Regulatory (Band 2)
- Intellectual Property: Patent (Band 4)
- Litigation: General Commercial: Highly Regarded (Band 3)
- Litigation: Securities (Band 3)
- Real Estate: Mainly Corporate & Finance (Band 3)
- Tax (Band 3)
- Corporate/M&A (Band 5)
- Corporate/M&A (Band 4)
- Real Estate (Band 3)
- Tax Recognised Practitioner
- Banking & Finance (Band 3)
- Corporate/M&A (Band 4)
USA - Nationwide
- Appellate Law (Band 1)
- Banking & Finance (Band 4)
- Bankruptcy/Restructuring (Band 4)
- Capital Markets: Derivatives (Band 2)
- Capital Markets: Equity: Manager Representation (Band 2)
- Capital Markets: Investment Grade Debt: Issuer Representation (Band 3)
- Capital Markets: Investment Grade Debt: Manager Representation (Band 2)
- Capital Markets: Securitisation (Band 1)
- Climate Change (Band 2)
- Corporate Crime & Investigations (Band 3)
- Corporate/M&A: The Elite (Band 4)
- Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation (Band 4)
- Energy: Electricity (Regulatory & Litigation) (Band 5)
- Energy: Electricity (Transactional) Recognised Practitioner
- Energy: Oil & Gas (Regulatory & Litigation) (Band 3)
- Energy: Oil & Gas (Transactional) (Band 2)
- Environment (Band 1)
- ERISA Litigation (Band 2)
- Financial Services Regulation: Broker Dealer (Compliance & Enforcement) (Band 1)
- Financial Services Regulation: Consumer Finance (Compliance & Litigation) (Band 2)
- Healthcare (Band 3)
- Insurance: Dispute Resolution: Insurer (Band 3)
- Insurance: Transactional & Regulatory (Band 2)
- Intellectual Property (Band 3)
- International Arbitration (Band 2)
- International Trade: CFIUS Experts Recognised Practitioner
- International Trade: Customs (Band 1)
- International Trade: Export Controls & Economic Sanctions (Band 4)
- International Trade: Intellectual Property (Section 337) (Band 4)
- International Trade: Trade Remedies & Trade Policy (Band 1)
- Investment Funds: Hedge Funds (Band 1)
- Investment Funds: Registered Funds (Band 4)
- Leisure & Hospitality (Band 4)
- Life Sciences (Band 2)
- Privacy & Data Security (Band 2)
- Product Liability & Mass Torts (Band 2)
- Real Estate (Band 2)
- REITs (Band 2)
- Securities: Litigation (Band 3)
- Securities: Regulation (Band 2)
- Tax: Corporate & Finance (Band 3)
- Transportation: Rail (for Railroads) (Band 1)