Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP - The Inside View

Want a New York based firm with pro bono externships and no billable hour requirement? Look no Farrther than Willkie.

With its roots in the concrete jungle, it’s natural to assume this is a firm where dreams are made of. What are those dreams you ask? For this associate, it was “a warm and welcoming place where it isn’t an eat what you kill market.” Similarly, others spoke of “a collaborative and kind environment where I have an active role in the firm.” That’s certainly not to suggest there’s anything illusive about Willkie. Quite the opposite in fact: the firm’s presence is well grounded in its decoration of Chambers USA accolades, which bestow top praise on Willkie’s nationwide insurance (transactional & regulatory), investment funds (regulatory & compliance), and mid-market private equity buyouts expertise. It’s a similar story over in New York, where the firm’s general commercial litigation group score top marks; in Texas, it’s the corporate/M&A team that shine.

With a dazzling array of top tier recognition, we’d forgive you for thinking Willkie was an absolute giant. Rather it’s a firm with a relatively modest footprint for its prowess. Recent expansion in Texas with the opening of a Dallas base brings the firm’s stateside office count to eight. A further seven international offices across Brussels, Frankfurt, London, Milan, Munich, Paris, and Rome make up the firm’s global presence. Over half of the juniors on our list were based in the firm’s New York office, with a sizeable number in DC. The rest were spread across Chicago, Los Angeles, Palo Alto, San Francisco, and Houston.

Strategy & Future

Expansion is clearly on the cards for Willkie. Firm chair of the professional committee, Danielle Scalzo, tells us, “We have been in our high growth mode.” Indeed, in 2023, the firm elected 25 new partners – an increase from 18 in 2022. Our associate sources chimed in on this, describing the path to partnership as “looking good!” The firm’s recently introduced ‘state address’ of associate committees also got a notable shoutout for their transparency on the firm’s strategy, as one junior told us, “Associates are encouraged to ask questions and push back on policies and procedures. I may not be a partner, but they really value our voices.” 

Turning to global events, Scalzo explains, “While we saw private equity slowdown in 2023, that was offset by our strength in M&A, litigation and restructuring practices.” In an attempt to continue to provide a “broad and diverse platform in a challenging market,” Willkie’s made moves to open an international office in Munich, driven by the private equity opportunities afforded by the market. “Private equity is a major practice of the firm,” Scalzo details. “It was opened in response to client need.”  

Read more from Danielle Scalzo under the ‘Get Hired’ tab 

The Work

According to our list, the majority of juniors sit within the firm’s corporate & financial services, and litigation practices, with a significant number also dotted across the intellectual property, asset management, and real estate remits. Work allocation is centralized across the board, with work going through office and department specific assigning partners. “Every week, we complete a workload report to indicate availability, and the partners take a look before assigning work,” said one associate. But despite work flowing through a system, “you can request any work you want to get involved in, and they do take it into account.” The majority of our interviewees had no qualms about the set up – “it helps keep everyone in the loop, and is a good resource if you’re feeling underwater!”

Willkie’s litigation practice was described by sources as “pretty large… and growing!” Budding litigators can expect to enter the group as generalists, with the opportunity to work on antitrust, general commercial litigation, white-collar, and class action matters. Such matters are staffed across the firm’s offices, with New York associates often collaborating with folks in California and DC. We heard those in the Big Apple tend to carry out a fair bit of finance focused litigation due to the nature of the market they’re based in.

Day-to-day life for Willkie’s litigation juniors typically involves filings, legal research for briefs or motions, document review, and preparing answers to discrete questions from clients. Among all that, lucky associates were also able to get their hands on drafting experience, which our sources heralded “a great opportunity to engage in case material and see an active change.” Support is key is this group, as one interviewee said, “The senior people I work with value my opinion and experiences, and we are encouraged to speak up.” Some of the cohort even had the opportunity to go to trial!

Litigation clients: Ulta Beauty, Aon Corporation, Northwestern University. Represented Pfizer in two suits alleging the pharma company’s COVID-19 vaccines infringe on a patent created by Alnylam Pharmaceuticals.

“They keep coming back for more work…”

On the other side of the coin, the firm’s corporate & financial services practice is filled with capital markets, M&A, and private equity work. “I would say the majority of what we do is private equity related, working on the acquiring and selling of companies,” noted one interviewee, who proudly added, “They keep coming back for more work, so it’s become a major part of what we do.” Beyond this, the remainder of the group’s work centers around public strategy M&A, as well as a small dose of capital markets work, and some shareholder activism. The latter “could be a hedge fund client with a large portion of a public company making movements in management; it really shows our variety!” an insider commented on the range. Our sources’ involvement in the private equity sphere included drafting ancillary agreements and preparing diligence documents after reviewing materials from the client. To take things further, “you could be given the opportunity to walk through a negotiation with the client and summarize issues with the purchase agreement,” associates noted. “Attitude is important here! If you’re willing to give it a shot, people will trust you.”

Corporate clients: Truist Insurance Holdings, Delaware Life Insurance Company, Atlas Holdings. Advised Alleghany Corporation on its $11.6 billion acquisition by Berkshire Hathaway.

Hours & Compensation

Billable hours: no requirement

The firm’s lack of a billable hour requirement drew in many of our sources. “I knew going in it was a stressful role, so removing stressors like hours could make the process easier,” one noted. Breaking this sentiment down, “There’s no competition amongst associates here, and the no billable target certainly contributes to that,” an insider added. “It allows you to have a slow month or two without worrying about the financial repercussions.” On that note, “They’ve voiced that we’ll always be at market for both salaries and bonuses!” an associate gleamed.

"...the favor will always be returned!”

On the ground level, survey respondents indicated average weekly working hours sitting at around 44 – just below the market average. That said, long hours do exist. When a trial is at its peak, “I could finish between 9 and 10pm,” a junior litigator noted, but because there’s a more predictable schedule with litigations, “I tend to know what weeks will be busy, and whether I can expect to be working over the weekend, which is not often!” On the corporate side, “I haven’t worried about hours. I’m encouraged to work on new things, and the hours come with that,” we heard. Because of the no billable requirement, “you can be sick, or on holiday, and people will step up and cover for you because the favor will always be returned!” You’ve got a friend in Willkie!

Pro Bono

“The firm is willing to take on big and important cases,” one associate made clear of Willkie’s stance on pro bono. Attorneys here can get involved in a range of immigration, civil rights, criminal, and veterans’ cases. One source who had the opportunity to work on the latter said, “I’ve done quite a bit of work for the National Veterans Legal Services Program. The work consists of reviewing materials to ensure they cover why the person is eligible for aid – it took me back to law school because I had to research and apply facts. It’s so rewarding!” On top of being rewarding, “pro bono work provides us with opportunities to really take ownership of cases and develop skills that may not come as frequently with our billable work,” sources explained.

Our sources had even further praise for the firm’s lack of a billable hour requirement. “Because there’s no pro bono limit, a lot of us have two or three pro bono projects floating at any different time.” In addition to this work, the firm offers a pro bono externship program for associates to work full-time (for a period of four months to one year) for Mobilization for Justice, Her Justice, The Washington Lawyers’ Committee, NAACP Legal Defense Educational Fund or a New York City government agency through the NYC Legal Fellows Program. As a result, a whopping 91% of surveyed associates felt they had autonomy of the volume of pro bono work they could take on.

Pro bono hours

  • For all US attorneys: 76,712
  • Average per US attorney: 79

"The majority of people were raised here, so that Willkie-way is predominant..."


“When times get hard, you want to be working with pleasant people!” one wise interviewee proclaimed. And it seems Willkie’s recruitment team follow the same mantra. “The number of assholes is minimal,” relieved insiders made clear. Willkie’s culture goes way back (136 years to be exact) and still pulses strong through the firm’s veins. “The majority of people were raised here, so that Willkie-way is predominant, which is SO corny but does make a difference!” an associate laughed. With such a friendly bunch, it comes as no shock that this lot love a social event. Gatherings are often in the form of monthly get-togethers involving food and drinks; most recently, associates had a bowling event. “It was nice not to chat about work!” quipped an insider. The firm’s women’s group also got a shoutout for their events: “We have events once a quarter, like a book club, breakfast, or a speaking event.”

Career Development

There were a multitude of career development practices highlighted by our interviewees. A big one was the firm’s mentorship program: “When you join, you’re allocated a partner and a third- or fourth-year associate mentor. They try to match people who have similar interests!” A more recently introduced initiative is the mentoring pod program. Like peas in a pod, juniors are paired with two more partners and senior associates in their practice group. “It’s a safe place to talk about things you normally wouldn’t, such as navigating communication and taking time off,” said one associate. “I was relieved to be able to ask questions without judgement.”

Other development opportunities involve the firm’s main training sessions. “There are CLE sessions, practice group sessions, and lunchtime sessions. There’s always something going on!” recalled a source. The sessions are typically skills-based, where “you’re learning the nuts and bolts.” Outside of these training sessions, plenty of learning happens organically. “The culture here makes it easier to work with people and build informal relationships,” an interviewee noted. “You want to keep in touch with each other!” This culture extends to the path to partnership, too. “I feel like I could stay here for my whole career, and that has been communicated with me,” said a source. “The honest feedback is appreciated.”

Diversity, Equity & Inclusion

“I definitely think diversity, equity, and inclusion is a priority to the firm,” one associate considered. Many of our sources felt the firm’s efforts in the space were coming to fruition in the first-year cohorts around them: “I’m looking at my class and the classes coming up behind me, and the representation is there.” Like many a BigLaw firm, representation among the higher ranks was said not to be as reflective of the surrounding communities, though interviewees recognized, “this is a global problem in law, and it will take time.”

The firm’s retention efforts were commended, too. “They’re making sure people are seen, safe, and heard,” said an interviewee, adding that the firm puts on “mentorship and training to help diverse associates ascend to partnership.” The firm’s diversity speaker series was highlighted by sources as a main event. “They aren’t just open to diverse attorneys – it’s an open community event,” explained associates. During these events, the firm hosts talks and interactive workshops on things like Black History Month and Pride Month. The firm’s involvement with the NAACP Legal Defense Educational Fund, LatinoJustice, and Appleseed Network also got a shoutout.

Get Hired

OCI applicants interviewed: Undisclosed

Interviews outside OCI: Undisclosed

Willkie is committed to interviewing students from a wider range of schools each year to bring in top talent. The firm takes part in a variety of job fairs with a particular focus on those related to diversity hiring or specific skill sets such as the Loyola Patent Fair.

The OCIs are conducted by a combination of partners and associates with significant interviewing experience who are often alumni of the school. Additionally, the number of students interviewed varies by campus. “Some schools are a feeder for particular offices, so we typically conduct fewer interviews at those. For students from schools interested in many markets, we conduct more.” In terms of questions,interviewers ask candidates about their previous work and leadership experience. “We’re interested in knowing the particular markets or practice areas the students want.”

Top tips from Danielle ScalzoChair of the Professional Personnel Committee

“Be prepared to draw on your prior experiences to demonstrate your strengths and skills even if they weren’t in the legal industry.”

“While intellect and analytical skills are important to being a lawyer, so are things like interpersonal skills, good judgment and grit.”


Applicants invited to second stage interview: Undisclosed

The callback process differs slightly office to office, but typically students meet with partners and associates. By taking a deeper dive into the candidates’ experience and interests, “we ask questions about experiences working through challenges because showing perseverance is a helpful predictor of success.” There is also an expectation that “a candidate should be able to have a substantive conversation about work they have done during their prior summer.”

Top tips from Scalzo

“Have an understanding of the firm and demonstrate that you have a genuine interest in working with us. Show us that you’re willing to work hard and be a part of our team.”

“It is helpful to come prepared with thoughtful questions for your interviewers and, where possible, try to connect personally with them. Just as you are looking for a great fit to start your career, your interviewers are looking for motivated associates to join their teams.”

“Though it may not always be obvious, there are distinctions among firms and students should do their research on what makes a place different from its peers. Then trust your instincts and focus on the kind of place you think will be a good home for you to start your career.”

Summer Program

Offers: Undisclosed

Acceptances: Undisclosed

The firm tells us that its 10 weeks summer program “is a great mix of real work, thoughtful mentoring and fun social opportunities.” Some offices hire summer associates into particular practices. The New York office hires into a litigation and a transactional track, which includes practice areas like corporate, asset management, finance, real estate, executive compensation & employee benefits, tax and intellectual property. However, “all summer associates participate in firm-wide orientation as a class in NYC and choose between a transactional or litigation focused interactive training program.”

Top tips from Scalzo

“I would encourage all summer associates to approach each day as a job interview, albeit a fun one. Thoughtfully consider each assignment you’re given and the contributions you can make, even as the most junior person, to your teams.”

“Start to form relationships with as many people as you can at the firm – attorneys, staff, your summer classmates – they will all play important roles in your career. Making the most out of your summer can really set you up for a smooth transition into life as an associate at the firm after you graduate.”

And finally….

“Be yourself – Willkie’s a down-to-earth place. Our attorneys are practicing at the top of their fields but are ultimately people who care about each other and root for each other's success.”- Danielle Scalzo

Interview with Danielle Scalzo, Chair of the Professional Personnel Committee

Commercial strategy, market position and trends

Chambers Associate:  How would you define your firm’s current position and identity in the legal market? What differentiates your firm from your peer firms in the market?

Danielle Scalzo: We have a coast-to-coast US presence with offices in major business centers in Europe. We offer an innovative and pragmatic approach, and pride ourselves on our culture of collaboration and teamwork.

CA: Have there been any developments at the firm over the past year that you’d like law students to know about?

Scalzo: There have been a lot! We had another strong year in 2023, achieving record revenue and income numbers. We continue to grow and in the last year have opened two new offices – one in Munich and one in Dallas. We continue to attract top talent across our platform. It was also a banner year for our pro bono practice, as hundreds of attorneys volunteered thousands of hours to an array of cases, many of which have made national and international news headlines. We devoted more than 88,000 hours to 667 active matters, and we opened 226 new matters in 2023 alone. Significant matters in 2023 include securing summary judgment for the parents of children murdered in the Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting, securing victory in a federal defamation suit and securing a significant transgender ruling in Georgia. At the same time, we remained focused on community. 2024 marks the 20th anniversary of the Willkie Greater DC Community Foundation which we created to support educational and enrichment programs in the region. We also participate in many other civic and community initiatives in other offices across the country, including through our Willkie San Francisco Foundation. In addition to our pro bono work and community involvement, over the past year, we have made meaningful progress in sustainability efforts as a firm, including committing to our pledge to achieve net-zero emissions across all offices by 2050 and enhanced initiatives to manage our carbon footprint.

CA: Are there any domestic or international events/trendsthat are affecting any of the firm’s practices at the moment? Are there any trends that you think are affecting the business of law firms more generally, and how is that playing out with your firm?

Scalzo: I think that our broad and diverse platform has served us well in a challenging market to allow us to continue to grow. For example, while we saw private equity slowdown in 2023, that was offset with the strength of our M&A, litigation and restructuring practices.

CA: What is your firm’s commercial strategy focusing on, and how do you expect the next year to unfold?

Scalzo: We have been in high growth mode. We have doubled in size in the past five years, while broadening our practice offering and client base. As noted, we have opened two new offices in Dallas and Munich in the past several months. We continue to attract talent across our platform and have recently welcomed a number of high-profile laterals. We also promoted 25 new partners in January of this year.

CA: Last year, you spoke about the introduction of the local associate committees. How have you seen the associate cohort develop with this?

Scalzo: I think it has been an effective way to be in touch with associates at a local level and to address firm-wide needs. One thing we introduced was a state of the firm address where associates can hear from chairs at the firm about how the last year looked and the strategy going forward.

CA: You recently opened offices in Munich and Dallas. Could you tell us the motivation behind this and what it will mean for Willkie in the future?

Scalzo: We continue to be strategic with our decision to open offices. Both offices were opened in response to client need. Both of these offices are connected to private equity, which is a major practice of the firm. 

Inside the Firm

CA: What’s the firm’s approach to bolstering diversity, equity, and inclusion?

Scalzo: Our commitment to diversity is not new. Our committee has been around for 30 years, and we continue to hire and retain diverse attorneys. We are further developing strategies to enhance our efforts on a long-term basis. For example, we currently have 45 female and diverse executives, including the chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer, alongside practice group chairs, committee chairs and office managing partners. Our DEI committees work together to foster an inclusive community at Willkie. Our associate driven affinity group that hosts events, training and community service throughout the year.

The Fun Bit

CA: The hours in BigLaw can be punishing. How do you unwind at the end of a long day/week?

Scalzo: I recently found that the combo of exercise and getting outside helps. My favorite is going for a hike or run.

CA: Is there a movie/TV show/books about lawyers or the legal profession that you particularly enjoy? And how accurate would you say it is?

Scalzo: Most of my friends will tell you I am the worst to ask about pop culture. I have never seen an episode of Suits!

Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP

787 Seventh Avenue,
New York,
NY 10019-6099
Website www.willkie.com

Main areas of work

 Antitrust and competition; asset management; business reorganization and restructuring; communications, media and privacy; commodities and derivatives; corporate and financial services; environmental; energy; health and safety; executive compensation and employee benefits; government relations; insurance; intellectual property; litigation; M&A; private equity; private wealth management; real estate; technology transactions; and tax. 

Firm profile

 Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP was founded over 130 years ago upon principles that still characterize our practice today. Our founders and memorable colleagues, like Wendell Willkie and Felix Frankfurter, established a strong foundation of integrity, innovation, pragmatism, flexibility and intellectual agility designed to continually meet the ever changing business needs of our clients. We continue our tradition of excellence by keeping nimble, working collaboratively, with respect and professionalism, and by integrating our philosophy into our client relationships. Our clients rely on us not only for our creativity, skill, leadership, decisiveness and high quality of work, but because they know we are solution-oriented and we get the job done effectively and efficiently. 


Law schools attending for OCIs in 2024:
Brooklyn Law School; Columbia Law School; Cornell Law School; Duke University School of Law; Fordham University School of Law; The George Washington University Law School; Georgetown University Law Center; Harvard Law School; Howard University School of Law; Loyola Law School; NYU School of Law; Northwestern Pritzker School of Law; Notre Dame Law School; St. John's University School of Law; Stanford Law School; UC Berkeley Law; University of Chicago Law School; University of Houston Law Center; University of Illinois College of Law; University of Michigan Law School; University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School; UC San Francisco; The University of Texas School of Law; University of Virginia School of Law; William & Mary; Vanderbilt Law School; USC; UCLA.

Summer associate profile:
Willkie seeks to recruit highly motivated law students with the confidence that they will become the future of the firm. A standout candidate possess professionalism, intellect, and critical thinking to help us continue our tradition of excellence. Our Summer Program offers students the opportunity to work on interesting and substantive matters with smart, diverse, interesting and collegial people. The Program contains a balance of work and social activities, as our primary objective is for our summer law clerks to have an opportunity to experience firsthand what it is like to be an attorney at Willkie.

Summer program components:
Willkie’s summer program is a terrific introduction to the firm. We offer summer law clerks the opportunity to work side by side with our attorneys. In addition, summer law clerks participate in a presentation skills workshop, mock arbitration and corporate negotiation training seminars and attend department overviews. Summer law clerks are evaluated twice during the program: once at mid-summer and then at the end of the program. In addition to giving an introduction to life as an associate, we offer a wide array of social events with the goal of helping our summer law clerks to get to know one another, our lawyers and the city.

Social media

Recruitment website: www.willkie.com/careers

This Firm's Rankings in
USA Guide, 2023

Ranked Departments

    • Insurance: Insurer (Band 4)
    • Technology: Transactions (Band 3)
    • Environment: Mainly Transactional (Band 3)
    • Litigation: General Commercial: Highly Regarded (Band 2)
    • Telecom, Broadcast & Satellite (Band 2)
    • Intellectual Property (Band 4)
    • Litigation: General Commercial (Band 5)
    • Antitrust (Band 4)
    • Banking & Finance (Band 4)
    • Bankruptcy/Restructuring: The Elite (Band 3)
    • Corporate/M&A: Shareholder Activism (Band 2)
    • Corporate/M&A: The Elite (Band 4)
    • Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation (Band 2)
    • Insurance: Dispute Resolution: Insurer (Band 3)
    • Insurance: Transactional & Regulatory (Band 1)
    • Intellectual Property: Patent (Band 5)
    • Litigation: General Commercial: Highly Regarded (Band 1)
    • Litigation: Securities (Band 2)
    • Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations: The Elite (Band 4)
    • Private Equity: Buyouts (Band 2)
    • Real Estate: Mainly Corporate & Finance (Band 3)
    • Real Estate: Mainly Dirt (Band 4)
    • Tax (Band 3)
    • Technology (Band 4)
    • Banking & Finance (Band 5)
    • Corporate/M&A: Highly Regarded (Band 1)
    • Banking & Finance (Band 4)
    • Bankruptcy/Restructuring: The Elite (Band 3)
    • Corporate Crime & Investigations: Highly Regarded (Band 3)
    • Corporate/M&A: The Elite (Band 4)
    • Derivatives (Band 2)
    • Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation (Band 4)
    • Energy: Electricity (Regulatory & Litigation) (Band 5)
    • Energy: Oil & Gas (Transactional) (Band 4)
    • ERISA Litigation (Band 3)
    • FCPA (Band 4)
    • Financial Services Regulation: Broker Dealer (Compliance & Enforcement) (Band 4)
    • Hedge Funds (Band 4)
    • Insurance: Transactional & Regulatory (Band 1)
    • Investment Funds: Regulatory & Compliance (Band 1)
    • Private Equity: Buyouts: High-end Capability (Band 3)
    • Private Equity: Buyouts: Mid-Market (Band 1)
    • Private Equity: Fund Formation (Band 3)
    • Real Estate (Band 5)
    • Registered Funds (Band 2)
    • Securities: Litigation (Band 4)
    • Securities: Regulation: Enforcement (Band 4)
    • Tax: Corporate & Finance (Band 4)

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