Juniors love the social life at this New York corporate hotshot, which recently opened an office in Silicon Valley.
“IT’S not always easy being a junior associate, but I don’t think I’d want to do it anywhere else!” one Willkie enthusiast told us. Juniors we interviewed were having a roaring time at the firm: no billable requirement, good career support, a “very social” office environment, and free daily cookies leave juniors feeling very much appreciated despite a large class size.
Willkie's attorneys are chiefly New York-based, but it also has offices in DC and Houston, plus seven international bases. The latest addition to the network is an office in Palo Alto, which opened in December 2018 with the hire of two partners from Paul Hastings. Firm chair Tom Cerabino tells us that “historically, the firm has been very cautious about office expansion.” That said, the Houston office, which opened five years ago and centers on private equity and M&A, has “grown rapidly and performed very well. Our experience there caused us to look at other markets where our skill set adds to the offerings in the market.”
The firm is recognized by Chambers USA for a host of areas including banking & finance, private equity, investment funds, insurance transactions, and M&A, sitting in the 'elite' category for M&A in New York and nationally. Willkie is ranked in New York for several litigation-related areas too – general commercial, securities, insurance, white-collar, bankruptcy – plus for telecom work in DC.
Strategy & Future
“If a new market becomes hot, nobody expects us to be the first one to rush in,” one junior told us. “We’re not going to take huge risks and jeopardize the firm! But Palo Alto is a careful and stable move.” Cerabino tells us that the Palo Alto office will be starting out with a tech transactions focus, but will likely expand into IP litigation once it’s settled: “We acquired a team in the tech transaction space, and are moving some New York M&A and private equity partners out there. We’re also exploring further lateral hires to expand that office to add to the high-quality team we already have on the ground.”
At the time of our research the overwhelming majority of juniors (over 80%) were based in New York, with some in DC and a handful in Houston. Since then, two juniors have joined the Palo Alto office. Juniors were split across an array of teams, with somewhat more people in transaction-related areas than litigation-related ones. About a quarter of juniors were in the general corporate practice, and about a quarter in general litigation; asset management is the next biggest group, followed by finance, IP, real estate, tax, communications, employee benefits, and business reorganization. We noticed that all Houston juniors were in corporate, while everyone in DC was in communications (telecom) or asset management.
Associates have assignment meetings every two weeks with a partner, who “talks with you to get a sense of what you’d like to work on.” Within their assigned practice juniors can roam across different areas operating as generalist – “even very senior associates can be put on something that they’ve never done before!”
“It’s the only way you can learn a deal from the ground up.”
The corporate department covers areas such as insurance, M&A, and private equity work – “it’s pretty much impossible here not to work for certain private equity funds.” Interviewees had experienced “everything from IPOs to large LBOs.” Alongside its staple insurance and private equity work, New York has been picking up more public company work recently. Houston has a focus on middle-market M&A and, unsurprisingly for Texas, energy. Juniors typically work on diligence in their first few years, and one source shared: “It’s actually so helpful, as it’s the only way you can learn a deal from the ground up.” Once they get a bit of experience under their belt, associates can expect to work on checklists and signatures pages, and eventually move up to drafting documents such as merger agreements and shareholder reports.
Corporate clients: advertising agency IPG, Warburg Pincus, and Choice Hotels. Counseled financial services company Perella Weinberg on its role as financial adviser in AIG’s $5.56 billion acquisition of insurer Validus.
The litigation group covers areas such as securities, bankruptcy, white-collar, derivatives, SEC, and antitrust matters. (Working in the last of these typically involves specialization rather than remaining a litigation generalist.) The life of Willkie's litigators typically involves “acting for big-name financial institutions, doing work related to the SEC, and supporting the corporate group and its clients when litigation issues arise.” New York has a penchant for securities and banking litigation, while DC takes on a lot of the white-collar and investigative matters. Juniors typically handle discrete research tasks, tackle document review, and prepare meeting materials, and are tasked with listening to court hearings and reporting back on them. More substantive work can include prepping witnesses, second-chairing depositions, drafting motions and portions of briefs, and conducting interviews. We even heard of one associate who visited a white-collar client in jail to gather information.
Litigation clients: CBS, Facebook, and Hudson's Bay. Represented Citigroup and some of its current and former directors in a shareholder derivatives case which claims Citigroup is essentially too big to oversee.
The asset management team covers private equity, mutual funds, hedge fund, and registered funds work – “there are also other areas we touch on like blockchain and cryptocurrencies.” One junior told us: “I recently worked for a registered fund acquiring another registered fund. I wrote all the documents and there was just a partner reviewing them to see if it was all okay.” Another source shared: “Right now I'm assisting a private equity client managing the investments into a private equity fund. I'm not calling the client and doing the negotiation myself, but I'm sitting in on the meetings. I'm drafting ancillary lists and the due diligence memoranda, which I then present to in-house counsel who tell me what's important and what's not.” Associates also take part in writing client alerts and pitches, even sitting down with potential clients for lunch.
Asset management clients: Morgan Stanley, Credit Suisse Asset Management, and Monarch Alternative Capital. Advised middle-market private equity firm Blue Water Energy on the $1.1 billion final closing of one of its funds.
Juniors were split on their views on making partner. One interviewee in a smaller office had “heard associates say it’s rare to make partner.” However, one New Yorker disagreed: “I get the sense anyone who puts in the hours and wants to become partner has a clear path to do so.” The firm made 11 partners in the US in 2019. Though that number is far off the average associate class size, it’s almost double the previous year's number.
Most interviewees were impressed by the firm’s commitment to juniors' long-term careers, partnership or not. “The legal personnel department emails around openings to interview with alumni and clients,” one source told us. “It feels like when people do leave, there’s still a positive relationship for them with the firm – you stay in touch.” A modest number of client secondments are available for those looking to get some client-side experience. Many people get a taste for the in-house lifestyle and want to jump ship; however, for some it’s “the opposite reaction – it made me appreciate the things I like about Willkie that I didn’t realize before!”
Overall, according to associates, “there’s a huge emphasis on support” at Willkie. Partners don’t “just take your first draft and walk away – they sit down and explain what you can improve and why they are making the changes they’re making. That’s how I’ve learned the most.”
Despite Willkie having pretty large class sizes (around 50), its associates didn’t feel like a lonely drop in the ocean. “It’s a lot of people,” one source reflected, “and of course we’re not all close friends, but I wouldn't hesitate to reach out to any of them.” Pretty much every interviewee told us about the firm’s emphasis on sociability. “All my close friends are people I work with here,” one source said. “We travel and hang out together all the time. Willkie really motivates friendships.” Not only does this “make working late nights a lot more palatable,” but it’s “enormously important for my mental health – there are always people here who want to spend time and be friends with me.”
“Cookie time is emblematic of that approach.”
Willkie’s emphasis on taking care of its associates was noted by many interviewees. “Cookie time is emblematic of that approach,” one associate told us. Yes, cookie time is exactly what you think it is – “we have hot cookies served at 3:30pm every day. I’ve gotten much better at resisting, but the first six months were difficult!” Luckily for the health-conscious, the cookies are sometimes accompanied by fruit, cheese and crudités, and “even if you don’t want cookies, it’s good that the firm just puts aside some time to take a break.”
Other social gatherings include holiday parties, celebrations at the end of a big case or deal, and monthly informal group gatherings, known as IGs. The relatively young and small Houston office gives attorneys “the ability to do more out-of-the-box social things. For instance, we went to see Hamilton in the summer!” The attorneys in Willkie's New York office were also treated to this seminal piece of musical theater. Daily working life is affected by this sociable emphasis: “I think nothing of popping into another associate’s office for a ten or 15-minute chat about what they did over the weekend.” In addition “the lack of a billing target definitely plays a role...”
Hours & Compensation
Having no billable target at the firm means that “no one’s trying to take work from you or add up the hours to try and get ahead of their classmates.” The “more fluid” approach to hours led one interviewee to say: “Honestly I don’t know how I could go to a firm with a billable hours requirement now. We have a more sustainable lifestyle here for sure.” We heard of associates billing anywhere from 1,700 to 2,700 hours a year – but most of our interviewees came in at 2,000 hours including pro bono. Every associate gets the same bonus, no matter what they bill. “The biggest factor in it for me is I’m not stressed if I have a quiet period,” one source shared.
“We have a more sustainable lifestyle.”
Typical daily hours for juniors tend to be a 9:30am or 10am start and a finish time of 6pm on quiet days, and around 8pm on average. “If I'm really busy I'm doing 12 or 14 billable hours a day,” one source shared. Some offices like DC have a culture where “most people go home at 6pm and work from home later at night.”
Interviewees reported doing dozens (or hundreds!) of pro bono hours a year. “Willkie has a ton of pro bono work, so it’s really easy to do some – but don’t take on too much!” one source cautioned. Though some had to “scale things back because I was too busy,” we were assured that the firm has a “very positive” attitude toward pro bono. “It’s treated just like the rest of your work,” one source said.
“Doing pro bono for places like homeless shelters.”
We heard of associates getting into the weeds of different kinds of asylum and immigration work, family law cases, criminal defense work, and helping nonprofits raise funds. “It’s a relief to be the lawyer doing pro bono for places like homeless shelters – rather than suing the shelter!” one source shared. We heard some associates also got involved in filing an amicus brief to the Supreme Court following Trump’s Muslim ban – Willkie filed a brief on behalf of several former federal officials.
Pro bono hours
- For all US attorneys: 33,369
- Average per US attorney: 58
Diversity & Inclusion
“The commitment to diversity and inclusion gets a ten out of ten from me,” one source shared, before adding: “The results are still in development.” Willkie has diversity committees which “meet on a regular basis and set up mentoring programs so people feel included and always have someone to reach out to.” We heard that “female partners are willing to mentor and are definitely attuned to the reality that there are many more male partners than female partners.” One partner in DC puts on a holiday event for female clients and invites female juniors along to network and “develop relationships in the early stages of their career.” There’s also a diversity speaker series that “open to everybody.” Recent speakers include Pulitzer Prize winner James Forman talking about criminal justice reform, a communication and body language expert Cara Alter, who spoke on gender-related issues, and 2020 presidential candidate Kirsten Gillibrand who talked about women in politics.
The first stage: recruitment on and off campus
OCI applicants interviewed: undisclosed
Interviewees outside OCI: undisclosed
Willkie interviews at approximately 25 schools on campus and at a handful of job fairs. The number of students seen at each campus varies. Professional personnel committee chair Thomas Henry tells us that on-campus interviewers are typically “attorneys with significant interview experience and often are alumni from the school.” Questions tend to focus on candidates’ skills, attributes, interest and prior experience: “Our goal in the on-campus interview is to gauge the candidate’s abilities and their interest in BigLaw.”
Top tips for this stage:
“Be prepared, show a genuine interest in the law and be ready to discuss your career goals.” – Thomas Henry, partner professional personnel committee chair.
Applicants invited to second stage interview: undisclosed
Candidates interview at the callback stage with four to five attorneys, who are usually a mix of associates and partners: “We aim to match the candidates' interests with the attorneys with whom they interview,” says Henry. Callback interviews are a “deeper dive” than the on-campus interview, and at this point Willkie is focusing on how the candidate’s skills match their hiring criteria: “Throughout the interview, attorneys are thinking ‘would I want to work with this person on my matters?’ Be prepared to talk in detail about everything on your resume,” Henry advises.
Top tips for this stage:
“Demonstrate that you are interested in the work, motivated to work hard, have an understanding of the firm, and explain why you are interested in working with us.” – Thomas Henry, partner and professional personnel committee chair.
Summer associates work with attorneys across the firm. In New York, summer associates rotate through three departments. In the DC, Texas and California offices, associates work in particular practice areas. All of the US summer associates come together in mid-June to meet with firm leaders and to “learn about the firm on a macro level,” Henry explains.As well as working for clients (both paying and pro bono), summer associates participate in interactive training programs like a corporate negotiations seminar, a mock arbitration seminar and a presentation skills workshop. Each office hosts events and activities that “provide our summer associates with an opportunity to get to know each other, our attorneys and the city,” says Henry.
Throughout the past decade, over 90% of Willkie's summer associates have returned as junior associates. Throughout the summer, Willkie has an ongoing dialogue with each summer associate about their practice area of interest. Henry tells us that “department assignments are made based on both summer associate preference and departmental staffing needs. Every effort is undertaken to ensure that summer associates are pleased with their ultimate departmental placement.”
Top tips for this stage:
“Get exposure to quality work and get to know as many attorneys at the firm as possible. Be open-minded and embrace the opportunity to learn and absorb information in a new professional environment.” – Thomas Henry, partner and professional personnel committee chair.
A parting top tip from Henry is to “be ready to talk about yourself and be honest about what you are looking for in a summer/postgraduation job.”
Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP
787 Seventh Avenue,
- Head Office: New York, NY
- Number of domestic offices: 4
- Number of international offices: 6
- Partners (US): 192
- Associates (US): 444
- Main recruitment contacts: Christie Bonasera, Associate Director of Legal Recruiting (NY/CA), Jeanine Thomas, Legal Personnel & Recruiting Manager (DC), Tiffany Piccirilli, Legal Personnel & Recruiting Manager (TX)
- Hiring partners: Jeffrey Clark (DC); Sameer Advani; Amelia Cottrell; David Drewes; Jared Fertman; Matthew Haddad; Shaimaa Hassein; Mark Proctor; Carly Saviano; Danielle Scalzo; Robert Jacobson (TX)
- Diversity officer: Kim Walker, Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer
- Recruitment details
- Entry-level associates starting in 2019: 51
- Summers joining/anticipated 2019:
- 1Ls: 6 , 2Ls: 72
- Summers joining/anticipated 2019 split by office:
- NY: 60, DC: 6, Houston: 9, CA: 3
- Summer salary 2019
- 1Ls: $3,653
- 2Ls: $3,653
- Split summers offered? No
- Can summers spend time in an overseas office? Case-by-case
Main areas of work
Brooklyn, Columbia University, Cornell, Duke, Emory, Fordham University, GWU, Georgetown University, Harvard, Howard University, NYU, Northwestern University, St. John’s University, Stanford, Tulane, University of Michigan, University of Pennsylvania, University of Texas, University of Chicago, University of Houston, UC Berkeley, UCLA, UVA, Vanderbilt, and Washington University.
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.
This Firm's Rankings in
USA Guide, 2019
District of Columbia
- Telecom, Broadcast & Satellite (Band 2)
- Antitrust (Band 4)
- Bankruptcy/Restructuring (Band 3)
- Corporate/M&A: The Elite (Band 4)
- Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation (Band 4)
- Insurance: Dispute Resolution: Policyholder (Band 2)
- Insurance: Transactional & Regulatory (Band 1)
- Litigation: General Commercial: Highly Regarded (Band 1)
- Litigation: Securities (Band 3)
- Real Estate: Mainly Corporate & Finance (Band 4)
- Real Estate: Mainly Dirt Recognised Practitioner
- Tax (Band 3)
USA - Nationwide
- Banking & Finance (Band 4)
- Bankruptcy/Restructuring (Band 3)
- Capital Markets: Derivatives (Band 3)
- Corporate/M&A: The Elite (Band 4)
- Energy: Oil & Gas (Transactional) Recognised Practitioner
- FCPA (Band 3)
- Insurance: Transactional & Regulatory (Band 1)
- Investment Funds: Private Equity: Fund Formation (Band 4)
- Investment Funds: Registered Funds (Band 2)
- Investment Funds: Regulatory & Compliance (Band 1)
- Private Equity: Buyouts (Band 4)
- Securities: Litigation (Band 4)
- Securities: Regulation (Band 4)
- Tax: Corporate & Finance Recognised Practitioner