“High expectations” from “intelligent people who are easy to get along with” set the tone at this high-flying New York native.
LAW firms are a dime a dozen in New York City, but only a handful can claim the elite corporate pedigree and reputation of Sullivan & Cromwell. Founded in 1879, this firm helped build the Panama Canal, played a pivotal role in the formation of General Electric and US Steel, and was even involved in ending the Korean War. Clients include Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, Volkswagen, BP, Amazon, and AT&T, plus tons of other heavy hitters from the corporate world. Juniors told us they were attracted by the firm's “general reputation and all-round excellent work product,” believing that “the name and reputation will open doors later on in my career.”
“The name and reputation will open doors later on in my career.”
Its expertise earns the firm top-tier rankings in Chambers USA for areas including capital markets; corporate M&A; financial services regulation; and general, securities, and white-collar litigation. Juniors were drawn in by these “amazing practices” but were also attracted to the professional development opportunities on offer. “It was quite clear that culturally this is a place of learning, and there is the expectation that that's a big part of our practice," one interviewee told us. "It's not just about doing deals, but also about staying on top of the law and discussing all the changes.” Eager juniors “wanted to be around people who were excited by that learning prospect.”
S&C has two offices on the East Coast and two on the West Coast, but New York is by far the largest office. There's a significant international presence too made up of offices in Beijing, Brussels, Frankfurt, Hong Kong, London, Melbourne, Paris, Sydney, and Tokyo. Commenting on the international scope of Sullivan & Cromwell, chair of the firm Joe Shenker tells us: “Our work largely consists of interesting multidisciplinary problems which call upon teams of lawyers who cut across practice areas, geographies, and skill sets. This plays well to our network of offices, which are located in the commercial centers of the world, and to our multidisciplinary and dynamic cross-training approach." If this sounds like your cup of tea, read on.
At the time of our research, the vast majority of juniors were in either litigation or the firm's 'general practice' (effectively its corporate group); a handful join either the tax or estates & personal practices. The overwhelming majority of each incoming class joins the New York office (about six in seven based on the list of juniors sent to us) with the rest split evenly between LA, Palo Alto, and DC.
When it comes to getting work, most groups described a “hybrid system,” which combines an ability to “reach out directly for particular types of work” with central assigning coordinators who “make sure you're staying busy and getting work.” One junior estimated that “about 30% of my work comes from the assigning partner, and 70% is free market.” Another observed: “It's probably preferable to make your own connections and get work that way, which is something I don't think people emphasized enough when I started. After all, the people you work with make up a big part of your happiness at the firm.”
“You can stay pretty general if you want.”
S&C's general practice covers M&A, capital markets, banking, real estate, restructuring, IP, employee benefits & executive compensation, and financial regulation. “They really emphasize people becoming general practitioners and taking assignments from all subgroups,” we heard. Attorneys do usually go on to pick a 'primary' practice group, but “you can stay pretty general if you want.” Our interviewees had worked with a range of clients from “big Wall Street firms” to “small state banks.” Many juniors get stuck into financial regulatory work as “the firm has a good reputation in this area,” while others told us of being involved in joint ventures, national bank mergers, and “contingency planning related to M&A.” Interviewees mentioned starting with diligence-related tasks, then moving on to “managing team members below you and managing the diligence process,” as well as “drafting sale and purchase agreements” and “negotiating NDAs for upcoming deals, which means a lot of client and counterparty interaction.”
Corporate clients: Amazon, AT&T, and Delta Air Lines. Advised German pharma giant Bayer on its $66 billion acquisition of agrochemical giant Monsanto.
Juniors in the litigation group appreciated the “generalist approach to litigation at S&C – you don't get pigeonholed.” Interviewees had worked on everything from antitrust and regulatory work, to white-collar investigations and false claims cases, to consumer class actions, to employment disputes. Several had been involved in work for Volkswagen related to litigation and investigations stemming from the 'clean diesel' emissions scandal. Tasks usually include “some discovery-related work” alongside a “good amount of brief writing, which is the most enjoyable.” If a case is going to trial, juniors also “draft deposition outlines and second-chair the depositions.” One litigator reflected: “There have been times when I would have liked more responsibility, but I can see it growing and I'm generally content with the trajectory.”
Litigation clients: BlackBerry, Fiat Chrysler, and Barclays. Defended Goldman Sachs in an employment suit which accused the bank of discriminating against over 2,300 women in pay and promotions.
“People know the name Sullivan & Cromwell even outside the legal field," one junior observed. "It's known as one of the best firms, and it provides broad-based training.” Juniors appreciated the firm's investment in their development, citing formal training that “starts when you're a summer and sets the tone for when you actually join the firm.” On top of presentations and workshops, there are 'partner perspective' events in which partners give advice and discuss their areas of practice. More informally, juniors found “lawyers are very good at explaining concepts and providing comments on drafts” and "if you have any questions about something, people are more than willing to help."
Sullivan & Cromwell has a highly leveraged staffing structure: it has three times as many associates as partners and its annual incoming associate class is about ten to 20 times the size of its annual partner class (and the summer class is bigger still). “Simply staying and surviving at the firm is not enough to make partner,” one junior pointed out. “The path to partnership isn't clear.” If people do choose to move on, interviewees were certain that “the skills we learn here stack up quite favorably for us. People hire former S&C lawyers because of the expectation that lawyers who worked here have a certain competency and an aptitude for doing well.”
Culture & Hours
“Even as a junior associate, people have high expectations," one interviewee shared, "but at the same time, people are pleasant and approachable.” Along with these high expectations, interviewees highlighted “the academic nature of the firm. People are very knowledgeable, intellectual, and really excited about the law.” As such, juniors noticed that “people don't shy away from giving constructive criticism. S&C is very real with you.”
“The focus is on client need and doing the best work," one associate said, "but the firm also tries to be as accommodating as possible when it comes to living your life.” At the same time interviewees said making plans for weekday evenings can be difficult. One reported: “Getting a ticket for during the week is the riskiest bet you can make – you sometimes have to make sacrifices.” We heard that this does lead to “a nice culture of spontaneous gift-giving whereby someone might call asking if you have anything on, and if you don't they'll say, 'Want to have my ticket for the hockey game?' or something.”
“Signing a deal with a Cali client at 6am.”
Juniors said they usually get in between 9am and 10am, and typically leave between 6pm and 8pm. You then might “do more work at home depending on what's going on.” There are late nights in the office too – we heard of juniors "staying up till 2am to file some briefs" and "signing a deal with a Cali client at 6am and needing to be here the whole time." A junior based in a team known for having "more stable hours" said the latest they'd stayed was 10pm. We also heard that “you are going to have to work weekends at times," though one source noted: "I'll generally know in advance whether I need to work on the weekend." In addition, “the firm does a good job of respecting vacation time.” One source elaborated: “If someone forgets I'm out and asks me to do something, other juniors will immediately step in and do whatever's asked. People are willing to take on extra work to cover for you.”
The firm matched the 2018 market salary increase. “There was never a question that we would follow,” one source said. “It was just a matter of time.” Bonuses also follow the market and are lockstep and dependent on your class year. There's no official billing target, but sources cited a figure of somewhere between 1,800 and 2,000 hours as an unofficial number to aim for, "depending on your long-term goals." One hard worker said that "2,200 is what I aim for," while another believed: "I've known associates who've been really high – in the mid-2,000s – and some who've been lower." The lower end of the scale usually falls around the 1,700 to 1,800 hour mark. Clearly the number you aim for will depend on your ambitions, but happily one source did say: “From what I've seen, people who had a slow year will still get a bonus.”
Diversity & Inclusion
Sources noticed “a lot of diverse representation at the junior end, but like a lot of New York firms when you get to the partnership level that does fall away.” We would add that women and minorities remain underrepresented at the firm at the associate level too. Juniors felt that “relative to the legal community as a whole, I would say we're in the middle of the road.” Most interviewees believed things were “gradually progressing” on the diversity front, and highlighted the “fairly active” women's initiative, which provides an avenue for further mentoring, but also includes leadership lunches and monthly 'cocktails and conversation' events. Other affinity groups hold periodic events. A source also informed us: “The firm has always had diversity training – it used to be online, but they've recently started doing it in person. Everyone is required to attend, including partners, which is really helpful.”
"When it comes to interviewing, I assume everyone has met the academic threshold, so I look mostly at someone's personality to see if they're someone I'd like to work with," an associate involved in OCIs told us. Click the 'Bonus Features' tab above for more on how to get hired at S&C.
Opportunities for pro bono are plentiful at S&C, but it's up to each individual how much time they want to spend on it. “There are a ton of opportunities – I haven't even scratched the surface,” one source shared. Another junior reckoned: “It's something the firm cares about, and something partners take into consideration in performance reviews.” Interviewees had worked on a variety of matters, including landlord/tenant issues, asylum cases, the transgender name-change project, and employment settlements. We heard about one junior who was able to continue working on a pro bono matter they had started at law school after joining the firm – “I think that's emblematic of S&C's support for pro bono work.”
Pro bono hours:
- For all (US) attorneys: 37,775
- Average per (US) attorney: 57
Strategy & Future
Juniors reflected that “S&C tends to be pretty conservative strategically – we don't hire a bunch of new people when times are good, and don't fire a bunch of people when times are bad. We're about steady growth.” As such, most reported little recent change in the firm's size or scope. At the same time, one source observed: “The firm's generalist model has helped us move as legal needs across the country move. It's difficult to predict where the legal market will head, but the firm is confident because of its generalist model.” Chair of the firm Joe Shenker adds: “I do expect our technology (including cybersecurity), restructuring, private equity, high-yield and leveraged finance practices will continue their strong trajectory of growth."
The first stage: recruitment on and off campus
OCI applicants interviewed: undisclosed
Interviewees outside OCI: undisclosed
Sullivan & Cromwell's recruiters visit roughly 25 to 30 law schools and participate in several job fairs, including Lavender Law Job Fair, Notre Dame Job Fair and Vanderbilt Job Fair.
The interviews themselves are usually led by a partner, and often include an associate too. At this stage, interviewers want to learn about candidates’ interests and what experiences they are after; how they analyze issues; and “how they would relate to colleagues and clients,” emphasizes hiring partner Sergio Galvis. Generally, interviewers will ask for more info on an interesting work experience, or even a hobby that is listed on a candidate's resume. “Sometimes more informal conversation is a great way to learn about someone and what matters most to them,” Galvis reflects.
Top tips for this stage:
“Your best bet is to be yourself throughout the interview process and engage in authentic discussions about your interests – professional and otherwise. Chances are there is someone at S&C who is interested in those very same things.” – hiring partner Sergio Galvis.
Applicants invited to second-stage interviews: undisclosed
S&C conducts fewer callbacks than many firms. This is, in part, to “provide a highly personalized, in-office interview experience that focuses on the interests and professional goals of each candidate.” The firm tries to pair interviewees with interviewers who practice in areas of interest to the candidate. Galvis explains that “our conversations with candidates are wide-ranging and could touch upon any number of topics. We don’t like to be too formulaic because that’s not how we operate.” The ideal scenario, Galvis reflects, occurs when “the callback process feels less like an interview and more like a meaningful conversation between people who have similar professional interests.”
Top tips for this stage:
“Do your best to familiarize yourself with S&C, our practice, and the work we do. It’s important to give some thought to the generalist, multi-disciplinary approach and whether this appeals to you as it is central to the way we develop lawyers at the firm.” – hiring partner, Sergio Galvis.
“We’re very focused on getting our summers engaged in the work of the firm," says Galvis. "We see no reason to wait until they become regular associates.” We heard that some summers use the time to experiment and explore different practices, while others come in knowing what they want to do and can seek out that type of work. A large majority of summers return to the firm after graduation (or after a clerkship), and at that point, students can select a practice area to join. But it’s not all work and no play – the firm puts on a “robust” list of social events as well.
Top tips for this stage:
“I wouldn’t worry about trying to impress people and instead would focus on taking advantage of the opportunities a summer at S&C will present to you. Attend trainings, participate in practice group lunches, dive into the work, get to know your summer cohort and enjoy your time at the firm.” – hiring partner, Sergio Galvis.
Sullivan & Cromwell LLP
125 Broad Street,
- Head Office: New York, NY
- Number of domestic offices: 4
- Number of international offices: 9
- Partners (US): 135
- Associates (US): 471
- Main recruitment contact: Milana L Hogan, Chief Legal Talent Officer
- Hiring partner: Sergio J Galvis
- Diversity officers: David Braff and Tracy Richelle High, Partners, Co-Chairs of the Diversity Committee
- Recruitment details
- Entry-level associates starting in 2019: 88
- Clerking policy: Yes
- Summers joining/anticipated 2019:
- 1Ls: 5, 2Ls: 124, 3Ls: 22 SEOs: 3 (anticipated)
- Summer salary 2018:
- 1Ls: $190,000 pro-rated 2Ls: $190,000 pro-rated
- Split summers offered? Yes
- Can summers spend time in an overseas office? Yes
Main areas of work
Our lawyers are trained to be generalists through broad exposure to a wide range of challenging legal matters, many of which have a significant cross-border component. A substantial number of S&C’s clients are non-US commercial enterprises and government entities and many of our US clients retain us for international matters. Our lawyers serve our clients through a network of 13 offices in New York, Washington, DC, Los Angeles, Palo Alto, London, Paris, Frankfurt, Brussels, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Beijing, Melbourne and Sydney.
S&C interviews at top law schools around the country. Our lawyers are alumni of more than 135 law schools.
Recruitment outside OCIs:
Hiring for Sullivan & Cromwell’s US offices is handled by each individual office. Hiring for S&C’s Asia and Australia offices, and of US-trained applicants to our European offices, is coordinated out of the New York office. Please send an application package consisting of a cover letter, resume and transcript to the appropriate office:
• New York, Europe, Asia, Australia: firstname.lastname@example.org
• Los Angeles: email@example.com
• Palo Alto: firstname.lastname@example.org
• Washington, DC: email@example.com
Summer associate profile:
We are actively seeking people whose intellect, character, motivation and other attributes promise to make them outstanding lawyers.
Summer program components:
Training/Orientation: All summer associates participate in a formal orientation program, as well as a wide variety of training programs and skills workshops.
Advising/Assigning/Evaluations: Summer associates are assigned a partner advisor and an associate advisor, from whom they receive assignments. They are also matched with a junior associate, who is there to help with day-to-day matters at the firm. In addition, each summer associate is assigned to an associate development partner, who oversees the distribution of summer associate assignments.
Events: Every summer, S&C organizes a variety of events, including professional opportunities, social activities and charitable events.
This Firm's Rankings in
USA Guide, 2019
- Capital Markets: Debt & Equity (Band 2)
- Litigation: General Commercial (Band 4)
- Antitrust (Band 2)
- Bankruptcy/Restructuring Recognised Practitioner
- Corporate/M&A: The Elite (Band 1)
- Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation (Band 1)
- Environment: Mainly Transactional (Band 2)
- Insurance: Transactional & Regulatory (Band 2)
- Litigation: General Commercial: The Elite (Band 1)
- Litigation: Securities (Band 1)
- Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations (Band 1)
- Real Estate: Mainly Corporate & Finance (Band 1)
- Tax (Band 1)
- Corporate/M&A (Band 2)
USA - Nationwide
- Antitrust (Band 3)
- Banking & Finance (Band 4)
- Capital Markets: Derivatives (Band 1)
- Capital Markets: Equity: Manager Representation (Band 2)
- Capital Markets: Investment Grade Debt: Issuer Representation (Band 2)
- Capital Markets: Investment Grade Debt: Manager Representation (Band 2)
- Corporate Crime & Investigations (Band 1)
- Corporate/M&A: The Elite (Band 1)
- Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation (Band 2)
- Energy: Electricity (Transactional) (Band 3)
- Energy: Mining & Metals (Transactional) Spotlight Table
- FCPA (Band 5)
- Financial Services Regulation: Banking (Compliance) (Band 1)
- Financial Services Regulation: Banking (Enforcement & Investigations) (Band 1)
- Financial Services Regulation: Financial Institutions M&A (Band 1)
- Insurance: Transactional & Regulatory (Band 3)
- Investment Funds: Registered Funds (Band 4)
- Projects: LNG (Band 1)
- Projects: Mining & Metals (Band 1)
- Projects: Oil & Gas (Band 3)
- Real Estate (Band 2)
- REITs (Band 4)
- Securities: Litigation (Band 1)
- Securities: Regulation (Band 3)
- Tax: Corporate & Finance (Band 1)