S&C is the place to be if you want to kickstart your career as a generalist at one of the most prestigious firms in BigLaw.
“We are exactly where we would like to be,” replies senior chair Joseph Shenker, when we ask how he would describe Sullivan & Cromwell’s current market position. This assuredness is well earned: S&C is one of the most prestigious BigLaw firms to emerge from the financial center of New York and has 143 years of history behind it. Shenker adds that S&C is known for being “the 'go-to firm' for complicated questions around the world” and that incoming associates will find themselves joining "a group of highly motivated, diverse and multidisciplinary lawyers, who can work across borders and practice specialties, to collaboratively solve the complex and often novel problems our clients face around the world."
S&C sits atop the Chambers USA nationwide rankings in various areas. On the transactional side, the firm’s corporate/M&A, derivatives, energy, projects, andtaxpractices are the ones to beat, while on the contentious front S&C’s securities and corporate crime & investigations expertise is deemed top notch. When it comes to financial regulation work, S&C sweeps the board of premier accolades. There are many more areas that come in for praise on S&C’s home turf of New York, but also across California, where it has offices inLA and Palo Alto. An office in DC rounds out S&C’s domestic presence, which is accompanied by a further nine offices across Europe and the Asia-Pacific region.
"The strength of the firm’s generalist approach is that you get to see the whole lifecycle of companies."
Many of our sources were drawn to S&C because of its “prestige and reputation,” but another key factor was “the generalist approach to staffing.” For those entering S&C’s general practice group, this meant being able to work on everything and anything that falls under the broad corporate umbrella: “The strength of the firm’s generalist approach is that you get to see the whole lifecycle of companies, and therefore you get a better idea of the full spectrum of a company’s needs,” one associate told us. Shenker says: “We want to create a challenging, multidisciplinary practice and experience for all our lawyers, youngest to oldest, which doesn’t necessarily mean representing the biggest clients possible — we often represent startups.”
Strategy & Future
The big news this year is that Joseph Shenker, who had served as firm chair for 12 years, handed the reins over to two cochairs in January 2022 – Robert Giuffra Jr. and Scott Miller. We caught up with Shenker before he stepped down to find out what had been happening at S&C recently and how he saw the firm evolving.
How has the past year been for the firm? "Overall, I think it’s been the most interesting – actually two years – we’ve ever had. We’ve had every office and every practice area working collaboratively," Shenker reflects. "We’ve also been greatly expanding our Northern California office and practice and expect to be relocating to expanded offices in Downtown Palo Alto in the near term." He adds that "the change of administration in Washington has led to a heightened focus on antitrust and other enforcement issues. We had been expanding our antitrust and technology practices in anticipation of just such a shift, and so have been well positioned to handle the increased activity, complexity and sensitivities of the current antitrust and enforcement environment and challenges."
“...our goal is to be always building for the succeeding generations and maintaining our lead for the next 100 years and beyond.”
This isn’t the first time S&C anticipated a significant change, says Shenker. “We saw the growth and potential of Fintech, including blockchain and cryptocurrency, and developed our Fintech practice early on to advise our clients in this emerging area. Our DNA is to always be looking ahead, to be dynamic and build and invest for the long term [...] our goal is to be always building for the succeeding generations and maintaining our lead for the next 100 years and beyond."
Associates at S&C are usually sorted into one of two main pools. The general practice group is essentially a broad-stroke corporate team, with subgroups including M&A, capital markets, finance & restructuring, financial institutions, real estate, executive compensation, and IP. Associates wanting to focus on litigious work are placed in the litigation group, and a small number of associates join either the estates & personal or tax specialist teams. As one source put it: “When S&C say they have a generalist model, they really mean it.” Summer associates get the opportunity to work on both corporate and litigious matters, but there is the opportunity to indicate your preference from the off: “There’s a meeting in the middle of the summer to check that you are happy with where the majority of your work is coming from,” one associate explained.
“There is a centralized staffer and they have a list of partners who are looking for help,” a source informed us.Occasionally, the work coordinator will look across people’s workloads and request that associates jump onto a particular assignment, but as one explained: “Those requests are not mandatory. I would say I get one of those requests every six weeks, and I haven’t been forced to take any of those assignments.” Associates can also source work on their own, but the sense we got was that the work coordinator plays quite a prominent role in overseeing assignments.
The firm’s general practice group covers the majority of the firm’s transactional work. For juniors here, there are open assignments for the first 18 months, before they are able to organically specify areas of focus: “I would say that the main groups are M&A, capital markets, finance & restructuring, and financial institutions (which includes all our banking clients),” one associate told us; “as you can imagine, there’s a lot of crossover between those four groups. Financial institutions, for example, would do all the corporate financing and M&A work for the specific subset of banking clients.” According to associates in S&C’s “flagship”financial institutions practice: “It’s an industry group, so I might be working on a bank merger, filing necessary applications, handling corporate governance matters, and setting up an employee benefits trust fund.”
General practice clients: Morgan Stanley, AT&T, Cornerstone, Tiffany’s. Advised the Canadian Pacific Railway on its $31 billion offer to buy Kansas City Southern, with a view to creating the first rail network connecting the United States, Mexico and Canada.
"If you join litigation, you will be competing against that.”
“There are a whole bunch of people who have wanted to do litigation their whole life,” one source highlighted, “they’ve worked toward it through law school, and it’s all they’ve ever wanted to do. If you join litigation, you will be competing against that.” The majority of junior associates in the litigation practice are based at the firm’s office in New York, and there’s no prizes for guessing why it’s so competitive. The New York office scoops up top-tier Chambers USA state rankings in general commercial, securities, and white-collar crime & government investigations work. One source told us: “When I am the most junior person on a large team, there’s lots of note-taking assignments, research, document review, and drafting emails.” But on smaller teams, and with experience under your belt, there are plenty of opportunities up for grabs: “I’ve done things like draft the entire set of requests on a case, second-chair depositions, and even take charge of the first draft of entire briefs.” The firm also has a sizable litigation practice in its DC office.
Litigation clients: Ocado, BlockFi, Allianz, JPMorgan Chase. Successfully represented Goldman Sachs against a class action securities fraud suit brought against the company by investors. The claim involved alleged false statements by the bank about the sale of complex debt instruments in the build-up to the 2008 financial crisis.
“It’s known as being the perfectionist firm."
“It’s known as being the perfectionist firm and I’d say that’s true,” an associate thought. “There is an emphasis on attention to detail and people are very quick to share their opinions.” This junior added that “everyone is really talented, but they don’t wear that tag on the outside. I was worried it was going to be really intense, and I thought it would be really stressful and hard, but everyone has been so nice and has given me compliments when I’ve deserved them.” The overall feeling was that S&C boasts a professional, collegial culture that puts the work into the foreground: “There’s not a lot of socializing or a huge amount of interaction that is completely independent of work.” A respectful culture of “deferring to people more senior to you” was also identified.
Interviewees told us that S&C was keen to have associates back in the office as life begins to return to pre-pandemic familiarity, but was offering a lot of flexibility on this front. Encouragements have included an increased budget for evening meals; subsidies for the cafeteria; gym and laundry facilities; and a relaxed dress code. As one source put it: “They just recognized that we needed to get people back together. But they’ve put no date in the calendar, and we are never forced to come in at any time.”
The sense we got is that S&C favors a more hands-on approach to training. “It’s a ‘get your feet wet’ approach,” an associate confirmed. “I’ve been blown away by the mid-levels and seniors I’ve worked with – who I figured would be very competent anyway – and that has been the value of the on-the-job training.” Another source added that “it’s a place where we are given as much responsibility as we can take. If you want to take on something new, you can, which will allow you to grow faster if you want.” When it came to feedback, “the partners won’t typically reach out to you to give you a whole bunch, so you’ll have to ask for it and make it happen.” However, “S&C is a very intellectual place,” this junior pointed out, “and people do care about your substantive growth as a lawyer. People take the time to put the matter into context and it’s in those everyday interactions where development occurs.”
We heard that S&C “rarely makes lateral hires, so everyone at the firm knows that when they take on an associate, they do so with the intention of training them up to ultimately be a partner at the firm.” At the same time, sources highlighted that “the path to partnership isn’t always clear.” This interviewee said that “the firm doesn’t really offer up that information, but I haven’t really sought it out either. I think a lot of us are a bit more ‘let’s get our work done and focus on the short-to-medium term.’”
Hours & Compensation
Billable hours: no requirement
S&C doesn’t set a billable requirement but “there are expectations that you hear about, although they’ve never been communicated by a partner – I’ve heard that 1,800 is where you want to be at the lower end, but I think most people start the year with 2,000 hours in their head and then see how it goes.” This source put it very simply: “The expectation is that you’ll work as hard as the firm needs you to work in a given week, and if you do that you’ll clock a lot of hours!” A good week would see associates billing “eight-hour days, but a bad week would involve several 12-hour days and then weekend work – I’m talking about hours billed, so the time you’re working will be a little bit more than that.” Our survey respondents logged an average of 58 hours worked in the preceding week.
As you might expect from a firm like S&C, “the firm’s reaction was to match the pay hikes – this has happened a few times now, and while we’re never the first firm to match, we’re also never the last.” The firm did match the latest scale set by Cravath in early 2022. Bonuses at S&C are lockstep and allocated on the basis of quality of work as opposed to the overall number of hours billed.
Having no formalized billing requirement is “one of S&C’s great selling points. Because we don’t have that target, you just don’t have to think about whether pro bono hours are billable or not.” We heard the firm essentially leaves it up to associates to determine what a reasonable amount of pro bono work looks like.
Given associates’ busy workloads, “we have to squeeze pro bono in when we can,” a source noted, while another was glad that “you can indicate what your interests are if you are too busy, so you can work on similar matters in future.” Interviewees were also happy to get “some short training sessions on pro bono cases you’ll be working on” and highlighted S&C’s recent pro bono collaborations with in-house clients, which set out to improve the outcomes of the criminal justice system.
Pro bono hours
- For all attorneys across all US offices: 31,343
- Average per US attorney: 49
Diversity, Equity & Inclusion
“They are making better progress in terms of gender representation than ethnic representation,” associates agreed. “The representation of minorities in my office is not very high right now, and the firm wants it to be higher.” Other sources noted that S&C’s affinity groups are open to anyone to join, “which helps to give people exposure and bring people together.” Other DE&I efforts included unconscious bias and inclusion training, and a broader recruitment push: “I went to what would be considered a non-target law school for New York law firms,” an associate explained, “and one thing that struck me was the effort the firm put into non-traditional law schools like mine.” At the time of writing, S&C had started to circulate a new meeting series on how to become an ally, “and that’s compulsory for everyone, right up to senior lawyers.”
The first stage: recruitment on and off campus
Sullivan & Cromwell's recruiters visit roughly 25 to 30 law schools and participate in several job fairs.
The interviews themselves are usually conducted by a partner and an associate (often from different practice groups). At this stage, interviewers want to learn about candidates’ interests and what experiences they are after; how they analyze issues; and how they would work in a collaborative environment. Generally, interviewers will ask for more info on an interesting work experience, or even a hobby that is listed on a candidate's resume. Hiring partner Sergio Galvis says that “sometimes more informal conversation is a great way to learn about someone and what matters most to them.”
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.
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.
Interview with Joseph Shenker, senior chair at Sullivan & Cromwell
Chambers Associate: Have there been any developments at the firm over the past year that you would like our readers to know about?
Joe Shenker: It’s been a very busy period for us, as it has been for many other firms and businesses. The change of administration in Washington has led to a heightened focus on antitrust and other enforcement issues. We had been expanding our antitrust and technology practices in anticipation of just such a shift, and so have been well positioned to handle the increased activity, complexity and sensitivities of the current antitrust and enforcement environment and challenges. Our capital markets group has also been busy, both on the SPAC side, and with IPOs and other public securities offerings. We’ve been very active in Fintech generally during this period and, in particular, in advising on blockchain and cryptocurrency matters. From an M&A perspective, 2021 was extraordinary: we advised on more than $660 billion of global M&A deals, including: successfully representing Canadian Pacific Railway in winning the hotly contested battle for Kansas City Southern; closing the Tiffany-LVMH cross-border merger; and signing up the Warner Media-Discovery combination on behalf of AT&T (Warner Media). Our general litigation practice has been firing on all “cylinders,” including continuing work for Volkswagen and Stellantis (formerly FCA Chrysler) in numerous courts and actions, new US pandemic related litigation for Allianz, and very interesting IP patent litigation on behalf of Columbia University and others.
Overall, I think it’s been the most interesting — actually two years — we’ve ever had. We’ve had every office and every practice area working collaboratively. We promoted six new partners in July 2021, and another five in January 2022. We’ve also been greatly expanding our Northern California office and practice and expect to be relocating to expanded offices in Downtown Palo Alto in the near term.
CA: What is your firm's strategy and how do you expect the next year to unfold?
JS: I expect to keep doing what we’ve been doing. Our philosophy is to always think ahead of the market and build for the long term. We were one of the earliest firms to develop an Asia practice as a part of our Asia-Pacific growth. We anticipated the expansion of cross-border M&A and early on established top flight M&A practices in London, Paris and Frankfurt as well as in our five Asia-Pacific offices. We recognized the implications of Brexit and increased EU merger and antitrust enforcement and thus opened up an office in Brussels in 2017. We saw the growth and potential of Fintech, including blockchain and cryptocurrency, and developed our Fintech practice early on to advise our clients in this emerging area. Our DNA is to always be looking ahead, to be dynamic and build and invest for the long term. Our foundational values of meritocracy and diversity are essential to that dynamism and long-term growth and success. This is why we recruit well-rounded, high IQ and EQ individuals from all over the world, from all backgrounds, cultures and points of view. For more than 140 years our success has been driven by recruiting wisely and broadly and staying ahead of the next developing area—our goal is to be always building for the succeeding generations and maintaining our lead for the next 100 years and beyond. That requires intense strategic focus—geographically and practice area-wise—but, even more important: in giving opportunity to, training and mentoring each incoming class, so that each can quickly fulfill the potential we know they have and become engaged participants within the firm, our communities and clients, and thus make the impact they are seeking as quickly and successfully as possible.
CA: How would you describe Sullivan & Cromwell?
JS: We’ve always been a financial and commercial center orientated firm, and thus we’ve always been on the cutting edge of innovative structures and products with financial institutions and business organizations around the world. We’ve also always had a large project finance and energy group and recently we’ve been heavily investing in our renewables and ESG practice, all of which feeds into our M&A, capital markets, and corporate governance practices. We are technologically “savvy”—for ourselves and our clients—and that has served us well in our own innovations as well as in our IP, Silicon Valley and technology capital markets, M&A and litigation practices globally. Our litigators are broadly trained non-siloed practitioners, each of whom can engage in a broad variety of matters in front of all types of tribunals. We are a group of highly motivated, diverse and multidisciplinary lawyers, who can work across borders and practice specialties, to collaboratively solve the complex and often novel problems our clients face around the world. We very much believe in not limiting people: developing them from their first day into broad-thinking, engaged lawyers, because that’s the approach our clients need and value.
CA: How has the global pandemic affected the firm?
JS: We’ve faced crises before. Our headquarters are in the FiDi area of Manhattan, just down the road from the World Trade Center and we witnessed that attack. We were intimately involved in the global financial crisis in 2008. We were flooded during Super Storm Sandy and had to evacuate those offices for two weeks. We learned and grew stronger—technologically, but more important, culturally—from those experiences and that has stood us in very good stead during this one. The pandemic was and is the most difficult of these crises, largely because it has no end date and thus has caused such lengthy suffering in our communities and stress on our people and clients worldwide. But it has also been uplifting to see the sense of community, caring, collaboration, assistance, empathy, innovation, flexibility, creativity, resilience and willingness to build for an improved future—on the part of all our people. It has been both humbling and inspiring.
CA: How would you define your firm's place in the legal market?
JS: This may sound arrogant, but we are exactly where we would like to be: we are the “go-to firm” for complicated questions around the world. We start with recruiting the most talented people, as I’ve said, from across the world and across all backgrounds, and then train and mentor them to be broad, multidisciplinary practitioners, including by giving our lawyers as much responsibility as possible, from the day they get here and as they advance in their careers. This creates the virtuous cycle that has been the bedrock of our success: a cadre of diverse, well-trained and motivated professionals, who attract the most interesting and dynamically changing work, from the most interesting and innovative clients, around the world. Professionals who either stay with us or—with our help—move on to take their place in business, public service, academia, or even other firms they eventually choose, but always with the benefit I hope of invaluable and always applicable training, learning and experience, which leads them to stay in touch with us wherever their lives take them.
CA: What are the most significant trends in the legal market that you feel students should know about?
JS: I think there is an increasing divergence in quality and focus among firms. Law students should be increasingly cognizant of that when considering at which firm to train. Some firms have a business model of growing rapidly with the aim of serving large clients in every possible sector, for the lowest possible cost to the client. This is a very structured and perfectly legitimate business model. Then there are the boutique firms that are limited in practice areas and/or geographies. We are neither. We want to create a challenging, multidisciplinary practice and experience for all our lawyers, youngest to oldest, which doesn’t necessarily mean representing the biggest clients possible—we often represent startups. We want people who are forever intellectually curious, interested in continuing their learning, and looking to continually develop and redevelop themselves as broadly as possible to help our clients and communities and to fulfill their professional and personal objectives.
Sullivan & Cromwell LLP
125 Broad Street,
- Head Office: New York, NY
- Number of domestic offices: 4
- Number of international offices: 9
- Partners (US): 136
- Associates (US): 411
- Main recruitment contact: Rebecca Calman, Associate Director – Legal Recruiting & Training
- Hiring partners: Sergio J Galvis and Inosi Nyatta
- Diversity officers: Werner Federico Ahlers and Tracy Richelle High, Partners, Co-Chairs of the Diversity Committee
- Recruitment details
- Entry-level associates starting in 2022 (US): 103
- Clerking policy: Yes
- Summers joining/anticipated 2022: 2Ls: 128 (includes 3 JD/MBAs); 1Ls: 7; SEOs: 2 (anticipated)
- Summer salary 2022: 1Ls: $215,000
- pro-rated 2Ls: $215,000 pro-rated
- Split summers offered? Yes
- Can summers spend time in an overseas office? Yes
Main areas of work
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: email@example.com
• Los Angeles: firstname.lastname@example.org
• Palo Alto: email@example.com
• Washington, DC: firstname.lastname@example.org
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, 2022
- Capital Markets: Debt & Equity (Band 2)
- Litigation: General Commercial: The Elite (Band 4)
- Litigation: Securities (Band 4)
- Technology: Transactions (Band 4)
California: Los Angeles & Surrounds
- Corporate/M&A: The Elite (Band 2)
District of Columbia
- Antitrust (Band 4)
- Antitrust (Band 2)
- Banking & Finance (Band 4)
- Bankruptcy/Restructuring: The Elite (Band 4)
- Corporate/M&A: The Elite (Band 1)
- Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation (Band 1)
- Environment: Mainly Transactional (Band 2)
- Insurance: Transactional & Regulatory (Band 3)
- Labor & Employment: Highly Regarded (Band 1)
- Litigation: General Commercial: The Elite (Band 1)
- Litigation: Securities (Band 1)
- Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations: The Elite (Band 1)
- Real Estate: Mainly Corporate & Finance (Band 1)
- Tax (Band 1)
USA - Nationwide
- Antitrust (Band 3)
- Banking & Finance (Band 4)
- Bankruptcy/Restructuring: The Elite (Band 4)
- Capital Markets: Equity: Manager Counsel (Band 2)
- Capital Markets: High-Yield Debt (Band 4)
- Capital Markets: Investment Grade Debt: Issuer Counsel (Band 2)
- Capital Markets: Investment Grade Debt: Manager Counsel (Band 2)
- Corporate Crime & Investigations: The Elite (Band 1)
- Corporate/M&A: The Elite (Band 1)
- Derivatives (Band 1)
- Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation (Band 2)
- Energy: Electricity (Transactional) (Band 3)
- Energy: Mining & Metals (Transactional) (Band 1)
- Environment: Mainly Transactional (Band 3)
- 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)
- International Trade: Export Controls & Economic Sanctions: Highly Regarded (Band 1)
- Product Liability: Automobile Spotlight Table
- Product Liability: Consumer Class Actions (Band 2)
- Projects: LNG (Band 1)
- Projects: Mining & Metals (Band 1)
- Projects: Oil & Gas (Band 3)
- Real Estate (Band 2)
- Registered Funds (Band 4)
- REITs (Band 4)
- Securities: Litigation (Band 1)
- Securities: Regulation: Enforcement (Band 3)
- Tax: Corporate & Finance (Band 1)