Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP - The Inside View

Where there’s a Will-kie there’s a way! Associates were drawn to this New Yorker’s emphasis on “thoughtful training” and potential to make them a Willkie lifer. 

For our associate sources, Willkie provided them with a place to land where they “wouldn’t get lost in the shuffle of BigLaw in New York.” Yes, Willkie was felt to offer big brand recognition (perfect for those resumes) in a firm that didn’t have the “ginormous” proportions that some of its competitors possess in Manhattan.That’s not to suggest that Willkie is a bit player in the lively theater of BigLaw, as partner Danielle Scalzo makes clear: “We’ve had another strong year and have established a few new offices, which give us a national presence across the US.” Recent years have seen the firm carve out its presence in Chicago and along the West Coast with office launches in LA and San Francisco. Internationally, Willkie has focused its attention on Europe, and maintains six offices across Italy, France, Germany, Belgium and the UK. 

Associates were particularly happy about how the firm’s cross-border work could give them a glimpse into the “the peculiarities of local law in a European country,” but closer to home Willkie excels in many areas. On the nationwide front, Chambers USA regards Willkie’s private equity, investment funds, registered funds, derivatives, and insurance expertise to be up there with the best the country can offer. The firm’s strongest collection of accolades is attributed to its work in New York, but Willkie is making waves in California for its tech transactions know-how and in DC for areas like general commercial litigation and telecoms sector work. Two thirds of the associates on our list were based in the New York HQ, while the rest were split between DC, Chicago, Palo Alto, San Francisco, and Los Angeles

Strategy & Future 

“Our core practice areas remain M&A, private equity, litigation, restructuring, and asset management. These are complemented by top-tier groups such as IP, real estate, finance, private clients, executive compensation and tax,” partner Danielle Scalzo tells us. The plan is to continue focusing on these core areas, and Scalzo anticipates that “restructuring and litigation will be increasingly active in the year ahead. We’re in a great position to weather a possible economic downturn.” A priority for the firm has been increasing collaboration and integration between the offices, as Scalzo explains: “We’ve created local associates committees that share ideas, and we get their input to explore the concepts and any issues raised.” Scalzo also expects that Willkie’s lawyers will only become more sought after for all-encompassing advice as the years go on: “Our work has become more than just legal in scope. We have become our clients’ partners and we are called upon by businesses to offer advice on navigating various issues.” 

The Work 

Willkie’s litigation and corporate and financial services practices held the most juniors on our list, but areas like IP, asset management, finance, and real estate also absorbed a significant number. With the firm’s strong preference for allocating work through assigning partners, sources told us that they never had a shortage of work: “We fill in weekly reports for the assigning partners, who then divvy up the work accordingly. We have an open dialogue with the assigning partners about the kind of work we want to do.” With most juniors starting out as generalists in their practices, our interviewees appreciated that as time went on “we’re able to express what we enjoy doing more at this stage, and the assigning partners have respected my preferences.” 

“I’m learning how big businesses work.” 

Willkie’s corporate and financial services practice was described as “well rounded, because you can do capital markets, M&A, or private equity work, which is great as I wanted the option to try different things and get more experience in business.” Some sources had “generally represented private equity firms, their subsidiaries, and high net worth individuals. You can be working with small clients who have one person on their legal team or big clients with full legal teams.” For one interviewee who didn’t have a background in business, the work had come with “a steep learning curve – matters can be slow, fast, and differ based on how intellectually stimulating the tasks are, but I’m learning how big businesses work.” Associate tasks included running due diligence, drafting summaries, and handling ancillary documents. This interviewee found that “with each year that passes I get given more responsibility, so there’s been a nice level of progression. The matters keep you sharp!” 

Corporate clients: Brookfield Asset Management, QBE, Morgan Stanley & Co. Represented Alleghany Corporation during its proposed $11.6 billion acquisition by Berkshire Hathaway. 

In the asset management practice, junior associates rotate within three practice areas – private funds, registered funds, and regulatory – in the first two years and then choose a specialization. “I got the full picture and wasn’t pigeonholed into one thing,” a source commented. “I could see all the parts of the matter and it helped me learn quickly.” The clients are mainly “larger, registered asset managers, hedge funds and private equity firms,” we were told. Sources had worked on several fund formation transactions, which gave them the chance to review the terms of investment and subscription documents and put together the first drafts of the formation documentation. “With registered funds, we also handle their annual updates, market offerings, and board governance matters,” an interviewee added. 

Asset management clients: Credit Suisse Asset Management, Gabelli Closed-End Funds, The New Ireland Fund. Recently assisted one of the world’s largest asset managers with the consolidation and reorganization of seven closed-end funds in a matter worth around $3.7 billion. 

“We do a bit of everything,” in the litigation practice, including “bankruptcy, antitrust, securities, shareholder, and general commercial litigation, as well as investigations.” The lawyers here “mostly represent financial institutions, large corporations, and individuals, but it can vary across industries.” Sources were happy to tell us that they “weren’t doing doc review all day! I’ve been able to lead a team, push cases along, conduct research and prepare witnesses. They trust their juniors to do the important things!” This interviewee explained that “even as a first-year, you’re on weekly team calls, assisting with court filings, and asked about what you think and what you’re seeing in the documents. Doing research on my own has given me great exposure to the cases.” 

Litigation clients: AlixPartners, Board of Directors of Wells Fargo, Sarissa Capital Management. Successfully represented the former CEO of AeroSystems in their $44.7 million case against Spirit regarding contractual compensation that was withheld following retirement from the company. 

Career Development 

“We offer thoughtful training,” says partner Danielle Scalzo. “We don’t stop after the first year and we run refresher training sessions once associates have some experience. We also do mid-level and senior associate training on areas such as delegating and giving feedback,” Scalzo adds. This source gave us a very handy snapshot of oversight and guidance at Willkie: “The mid-levels are walking you through the work; the senior associates are sharing the big picture of the matters with you; and the partners provide you with opportunities to observe how they act in court and draft briefs.” We were told that the openness of partner mentors and assigning partners allows associates “to inform them of what work we need more of and what we would like to improve on.” 

“There is a mindset that everything you do should provide a learning experience.” 

Associates agreed that mentorship opportunities were plentiful. One told us that “50% of the matters I work on have come from the first person who assigned work to me when I first got here. He is up for partnership and he still makes time to answer my questions – that is evidence of the type of people that Willkie brings in.” Mentorship is coupled with regular CLE training, as this insider explained: “As a junior litigation associate, there are training programs each year and they cover areas like research and cross-examinations. They are based on your level in the firm.” However, most of the learning was felt to be intentional and on the job. “There is a mindset that everything you do should provide a learning experience,” said a source. “As a first-year, there is some handholding for a couple of weeks, and then you are ready to be given work. This is why as a third-year associate I can independently negotiate on behalf of clients.” When asked about the path to partnership, associates highlighted that it was clear: “The people who make partner were summer associates here and are Willkie lifers. If you want partnership you can do it, but just remember it’s a demanding job!”

Hours & Compensation 

Billable hours: no requirement 

“We don’t have a billable hour requirement, so if things slow down I don’t feel that my bonus is at risk and people aren’t keeping work away from others. It means you get to try different things and have people walk you through them,” a relieved associate told us, noting the perks of Willkie’s lack of billable targets or requirement. The icing on the cake is that “Willkie has assured us that they will pay competitively according to the New York market, so there’s never a concern about raises. I can just focus on my clients.” Bonuses are lockstep and all activities are recognized by the firm, which is a major incentive for associates to get stuck into pro bono, recruiting, and business development activities.

“It’s about the waves and adapting to them.” 

“The first year was rough hours-wise because the market was hot for corporate,” a source explained. “It’s about the waves and adapting to them.” Interviewees highlighted that they don’t typically enter busy periods blind: “We can anticipate when it’s going to be busy, and partners don’t simply wake up and throw work at us!” Most associates explained that they bill between eight and 12 hours a day, depending on the intensity of matters. “I log on at 9am and I’m available up until 9pm with breaks. Other days, I can stay on until midnight,” a corporate junior told us. Another was happy to reveal that “in the past eight months, my weekends have been slow compared to the previous year and that’s a product of the market.” A litigator said that they “bill more hours when deadlines are close, and I don’t work weekends. They do give us support when the hours are intense, and I usually tell the assigning partners if I need cover.”  


One associate told us that they stay at Willkie because “the people here are impressive, intelligent, and human. This year has been tough, but the human element, and the level of understanding and support I’ve received has been great.” Others were glad to relay that “there’s a top-down push for the firm to have a good reputation. People are working better with each other and creating a more inclusive culture.” If you’re not the personable type, you may not last long at Willkie, as it’s the amiable folk that ascend the ranks here: “We fill out reviews and can flag any issues we’ve had. That can impact people’s chances at partnership, so they take that seriously.” This source added that “Willkie curates the people it hires – there are no sharp elbows here and people are friends. The partners are approachable and not scary figures!” 

“...people here understand that life happens.” 

Part of the reason why partners aren’t scary comes down to the perceived empathy on offer: “They do demonstrate empathy. If you’re not able to complete something before a deadline, they are very understanding and will make other arrangements. People are also respectful if you’re taking a vacation or sick leave.” This interviewee agreed that “people here understand that life happens – I had a friend who was going through a personal crisis and people checked in so that they weren’t worried about work.” Indeed, we heard that “associate wellness is something that the firm talks about a lot,  and generally everyone is helpful!”  

Willkie is a Top 10 firm for quality of life in our 2023 survey.

Diversity, Equity & Inclusion  

“We’re really proud to have become Mansfield 5.0 Plus Certified in 2022,” says partner Danielle Scalzo. The ‘plus’ part of Willkie’s certification means that not only was the firm hitting the targets for considering diverse individuals for senior positions, but it was also actively promoting them at that target representation level. “We have prioritized supporting our diverse attorneys and we want them in the room when decisions are being made,” Scalzo adds. “We hire, promote, and mentor our diverse attorneys on all levels. It’s our job to set all of our colleagues up for success. Each month we meet to make sure everyone is getting equal access to opportunities.” 

“...it's important because it makes you feel like you can stay.” 

A source emphasized that “through the recruitment efforts, I have only seen progress. When I look at my professional role models in litigation, I see people from all backgrounds, and it brings me comfort.” Another added that “we have quite a few affinity groups, including those for first-generation attorneys and veterans, which provide a pathway for proposing changes.” This source highlighted that “when you see a person from the first-generation group make partner, it makes the firm less intimidating – it's important because it makes you feel like you can stay.” On the whole, “our culture is more receptive to people from diverse backgrounds, and we’re known for being a more empathetic firm,” a proud junior reported. One recommendation for improvement came from this associate, who felt that the firm “could be more direct in their law school recruiting by reaching out to the affinity student Bar associations.” 

Pro Bono 

“We have seen greater social awareness in our attorneys, law students, and clients, who are deeply invested in social issues,” Scalzo notes. “We continue to offer a variety of pro bono opportunities connected to areas like immigration, civil rights, and other issues that our attorneys are interested and passionate about.” This was certainly backed up by our associate sources, with one stating: “I don’t know anyone in litigation who doesn’t have a pro bono matter. If you are passionate about something, you can bring it in, and the firm will give you the resources to make a team.” For those who want to be allocated an assignment, “there’s a centralized dashboard with all the pro bono cases and the teams you can get involved with.”  

“These matters are about helping your clients to know and navigate the law.” 

This source captured the variety on offer when they told us about “defensive asylum work, state litigation, name change matters for transgender clients, and work where we’re protecting low-income residents of New York.” Other interviewees recalled helping “individuals to get legal juvenile status and permission to live with a relative. These matters are about helping your clients to know and navigate the law.” In addition, Willkie offers four pro bono externship programs for associates. “For four to six months, associates can work full time for Mobilization for Justice, Her Justice, The Washington Lawyers’ Committee, or the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF),” an associate explained. Our interviewees were grateful to get experience on substantial assignments that required them to write appellate briefs and maintain direct engagement with clients. 

Pro bono hours 

  • For all (US) attorneys: 64,085
  • Average per (US) attorney: 63

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 backgrounds including previous work and leadership experience. “We’re interested in knowing the particular markets or practice areas the students want.”

Top tips from Danielle Scalzo, Chair 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’s other success.”- Danielle Scalzo

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; private clients; 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 2023:
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 motivated individuals who have excelled academically. We are looking for candidates who possess ambition, maturity, strong communication skills and the ability to work collaboratively.

Summer program components:
Willkie’s summer program is a terrific introduction to the firm. We offer summer associates the opportunity to work side by side with our attorneys in practice areas of their choice. We offer departmental rotations during the course of the summer. In addition, summer associates participate in a presentation skills workshop, mock arbitration and corporate negotiation training seminars and attend department overviews. Summer associates 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 associates 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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