At which firm can juniors find strong government ties, IP and life sciences expertise and transactional work to boot? All hail, WilmerHale!
Think Boston and (in the mind of a lawyer) you think life sciences, IP, and technology. Think DC, and government contracts, regulatory, and administrative law likely come to mind. And for those looking to practice law in these areas at the highest level, you may also think of WilmerHale, a firm co-headquartered in both cities and renowned as one of the country’s preeminent litigation outfits. “Wilmer’s reputation in Boston precedes itself,” sources agreed, reiterating the firm’s “excellent reputation in the life sciences sector.”
By the standards of Chambers USA, Wilmer’s appellate, FCPA, IP, life sciences and securities teams are among the very best in the country, while its general commercial, arbitration, and government contracts work comes with coveted elite status. In the capital, the firm’s reputation is such that it’s become a launchpad for those seeking to enter the world of government and politics with the likes of Robert Mueller among its decorated alumni.
“Wilmer attorneys are lifers.”
Whatever their reasons for joining, our interviewees were adamant that “Wilmer attorneys are lifers. For some, that means coming as an associate and never leaving. For others, it means returning after having worked in government.”The firm’s co-HQs (Boston and DC) are home to the majority of juniors. A sizeable number also join the New York office, with the remaining handful distributed between Denver, LA, San Francisco, and Palo Alto. The firm has an additional business service center in Dayton, as well as five international bases: London; Frankfurt, Berlin; Brussels; and Beijing. It’s also worth highlighting that while litigation may be the firm’s strength, its transactional groups are equally formidable. For example, Wilmer’s restructuring practice in New York is also designated with elite status, and its M&A, private equity, and venture capital teams are all highly regarded by Chambers USA.
Strategy & Future
“One of the key elements of our brand is our government-facing capability,” explains Robert Novick, the firm’s co-managing partner. “There are very few firms that can match us as a go-to destination for investigations and racial justice reviews.” Looking ahead, Novick elaborates that one of the firm’s “key strategic goals is to grow the transactional practice relative to the overall firm; we are experts in technology and life sciences, and this is most pronounced in our transactional and IP work.” Geographically, he tells us that “our greatest gains are likely to be in California and New York, which have the most potential for transactional growth,” while the firm’s “government-facing growth will be mainly, but not exclusively, in Washington, DC,” where the firm continues to attract senior government talent.
Career development prospects were flagged as a key draw by many of our interviewees. A lateral hire disclosed that they had “heard unbelievable things about associate education” at the firm. Alongside training opportunities, juniors are typically assigned a peer mentor and a partner mentor to help bolster their growth, something our insiders appreciated in an age of remote working: “Without the water cooler conversations in person, it can be hard to settle in, so I’ve really appreciated the frequent catch-up calls.” There was a particular buzz among associates about the newly implemented cross-practice trial group which aimed to give rookies real practice trial opportunities. “Wilmer gives you all the tools you need to progress so you can move as quickly as you’d like,”reflected a third year.
“The firm really endeavors to take your interests and long-term goals into account."
Juniors recognized that “getting to partner is not attainable for everyone,” and weren’t ignorant of the fact that “the BigLaw model depends on winnowing out people.”However, associates are never strapped for exit options. “The firm meets associates where they are,” shared a junior. “Where some have goals to stay a long time, a lot of folks come and want to move into government positions or elsewhere a few years in - the firm is very supportive of people being open about their plans.”We heard this even trickled down into work assignments where “the firm really endeavors to take your interests and long-term goals into account,” one source relayed, adding that “the work you get often sets out a path in line with your aspirations.”Overall, the consensus was that “when people do leave, it’s not because they’re unhappy but because they’re leaving for the next opportunity.”
Recognized as a litigation powerhouse, it’s unsurprising that the majority of juniors join the firm’s litigation/controversy group. Corporate is the next biggest group, followed by regulatory & government affairs, and IP. Each practice area in each office has a staffing manager who oversees associates’ hours and assigns them matters. “It feels really fair this way,” sources agreed. “The firm is very receptive to your interests and it feels like everyone’s doing the same amount of work.”
Newbies in litigation start out as generalists in their groups before declaring their specialism(s) as fourth years.Our insiders appreciated that the firm “lets you try everything out without being pigeonholed.”Those approaching the end of their third year reiterated that “learning about different areas is invaluable experience and helps you perform better as a lawyer overall.”
Juniors in the firm’s reputable litigationpractice ply their trade in commercial and IP litigation, appellate work, securities, and everything in between. A few shared that they had found a niche in the investigations and white-collar defense subgroups, which cover corruption and anti-bribery investigations. Insiders agreed that “it’s difficult to outline a typical day because there’s so much variety.” Depending on the case, juniors can be found drafting motions and memos, doing doc reviews, and liaising with partners, counsel, and clients. We also heard of associates having significant involvement in fact development for investigations, as well as having direct participation in meetings with the DOJ and the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Litigation clients: Bank of America, Panasonic, US Department of Homeland Security, Harvard University. Represented Bank of America in an inquiry into PPP funds allocated to small businesses affected by the pandemic.
Wilmer’s corporategroup falls under the transactional umbrella, which also includes bankruptcy & financial restructuring, tax, real estate, and labor & employment. Corporate juniors were synchronized in voicing their appreciation of Wilmer’s generalist approach: “A lot of the big players silo corporate associates and make them do something narrow, whereas at Wilmer they want you to be well-rounded.”As exemplified by one junior’s experience: “I could be working on a venture capital deal for a small company and a bond offering in the same day!”Others we spoke to had tackled M&As and debt financings.
“We often oversee the whole life cycle of a company.”
The firm’s expertise is such that “we often oversee the whole life cycle of a company,” sources highlighted. Of course, there’s the “normal junior work”which involves a bunch of diligence, drafting, and coordination, but responsibility comes fast if you look for it. As one junior told us: “Senior associates now trust me to be more independent, and I’m starting to get to the point where I can manage the incoming summers and more junior associates.”
Corporate/M&A and private equity clients: Disarm Therapeutics, Acacia Communications, General Catalyst, and TechTarget. Advised General Catalyst in the $18.5 billion merger between Livongo, of which it is the majority shareholder, and Teladoc Health.
Wilmer’s regulatory and government affairs practice is made up of several subgroups including: antitrust/competition; international trade; cybersecurity & privacy; defense & national security; energy, environment & natural resources; and strategic response groups. We spoke to juniors from the cyber security & privacy group – who typically have a background in the area before joining due to its specialized nature – who explained that, due to the smaller team size, “a lot of work is found informally through partners. It works really well and helps build strong relationships.” Associates here do a lot of counseling work, as well as reviewing contracts, drafting privacy policies, and generally advising on the applicability of particular laws as an industry shifts into a new market. They also carry out the initial investigation phase of data breaches in conjunction with the investigations and litigation groups. Deals and cases are often leanly staffed and the story from our insiders is that responsibility ramps up rapidly. “I’ve been given as much responsibility as the partners feel I can handle,” shared a source, adding that “it’s both challenging and gratifying.”
Regulatory and government affairs clients: Cue Health, Mission Support Alliance, Morgan Olson, GE Aviation. Acted for Fluor, a multinational engineering and construction firm, in a series of bid protests and related contract claims litigation in relation to an $82 billion procurement contract.
Culture, Hours & Compensation
Billable hours:2,000 target (including pro bono)
Our interviewees were candid: “We work hard and long hours. At the end of the day, we’re trying to win and serve our clients the best we can, which requires putting in a lot of time and effort.” However, sources also agreed that the firm had done well to sidestep some of BigLaw’s more toxic traits.
“The word that continues to come to mind is 'classy'…”
“It’s a very respectful place,” one source in New York told us, while another in DC weighed in: “The word that continues to come to mind is 'classy' – everything feels fair in the way management rolls out stuff. It feels like they actually field input from the community and that decisions are weighed carefully.” It was a similar scene in Boston where one junior joked “the people are pretty civilized. It’s definitely not a BigLaw sweatshop you’d find elsewhere.” Sources felt that it amounted to “a more intellectual culture that avoids being ‘bro-y’ or ‘fratty.’” For many, the culture was conducive to making “some really good lifelong friends,” with one source reflecting that “the people I work with are really interesting; not just because of their work, but because of their passions and outside lives.”
Though some sources advocated that “there’s a really big emphasis on a good work-life balance,” our survey shows that the average hours worked by associates in a given week was very slightly above the market average. However, this is offset by the fact that associates at Wilmer took two days more vacation per year compared to the market average. One complaint voiced by juniors, echoed from previous years, was that the firm was often late announcing that it was matching market rate. “It’s not always 100% transparent,” shared an associate, “which can sometimes set everyone in a frenzy and negatively affect the culture.” That being said, this year the firm took this on board and ended up being one of the first to announce it was matching the market raise.
“Wilmer is a very pro bono-focused firm; we’re not just doing it to check a box.”
Regarding bonuses, we were told that hitting the 2,000-hour target grants associates a market-rate bonus, which increases after another 200 hours. On top of that, there is also the opportunity for a performance-based bonus decided on by practice area leaders. Our survey shows that, overwhelmingly, associates agreed that the process of bonus allocation is fair and transparent.At the time of writing, the firm expects associates to be in the office three days a week. Many newbies who started during the pandemic were eager to return, some of whom noted that “working from home has been difficult because of the lack of interaction and formal training.”
“There’s no shortage of pro bono opportunities,”our interviewees were clear. Indeed, our data shows that Wilmer’s attorneys are billing more hours on average than nearly 90% of the firms in our guide. “Wilmer is a very pro bono-focused firm; we’re not just doing it to check a box,” one insider emphasized. There’s no cap on how many hours attorneys can bill and we heard that associates are encouraged to bill at least 20 hours of pro bono annually, with most billing well in excess of that. Our insiders highlighted opportunities to work on asylum and trafficking cases, as well as with educational institutions and non-profits.
Pro bono hours
- For all (US) attorneys: 114,684
- Average per (US) attorney: 117
Diversity, Equity & Inclusion
Wilmer is one of the most recent BigLaw firms to introduce billable relief for up to 50 hours of diversity work. As of May 2021, the firm announced a range of activities associates could get involved in which could count, including associate and counsel-led discussion groups and other internal programming. Associates also highlighted that the firm had recently appointed two directors of DE&I to oversee these initiatives and ensure that diverse associates receive the support they need. Like other BigLaw firms, Wilmer’s associate ranks had a good balance of genders and our stats show that the percentage of female and ethnic minority partners is above the market average. The firm also reported that several of its senior leadership committees were made up of a significant number of attorneys from diverse backgrounds.
The first stage: recruitment on and off campus
OCI applicants interviewed: 1,697
Interviewees outside OCI: not tracked
WilmerHale spreads its wings across the country to recruit candidates from around 40 law schools and also attends a range of career fairs. 2020-2021 saw members of the hiring committee and some alumni conduct around 1,600 OCIs and the summer associate class represents 30 different law schools, including Harvard Law, Yale, Stanford, NYU, Columbia, Georgetown and the University of Michigan.
WilmerHale searches for candidates who know what they like about the firm and how they see themselves fitting into the bigger picture. “Beyond a strong academic record and relevant prior experience, we also look for individuals who are able to work well in teams and build relationships, who have excellent problem solving and analytical skills, who are excellent writers and oral communicators, and who demonstrate confidence and commitment,” explains hiring partner Sarah Petty.
“Be prepared to discuss everything on your resume. Think about areas you can highlight around leadership, problem-solving, teamwork, awards, journals, etc.” – Sarah Petty, hiring partner.
“We also encourage candidates to have a writing sample prepared (be sure to proof it!).” – Petty.
Applicants invited to second stage: 561
Successful candidates are called back to the offices to meet a mix of associates and partners for between two and two and a half hours. These attorneys will also range in practice area specialties depending on the candidate’s interests voiced upon the scheduling of their interview. Petty explains how the firm believes that “past behavior is often a good predictor of future performance. To measure ‘commitment,’ an interviewer might look at a resume, identify a particular experience and ask probing questions to understand how the candidate achieved a goal, overcame an obstacle, etc. Each writing sample is also carefully reviewed—as is every piece of written work (cover letters, etc.) that comes to us through the process.”
“Review firm news and look at recent press releases so you know some major victories they have had. Use American Lawyer, NALP, Vault and Chambers reports. There is a significant amount of information out there you can collect and your interviewers will expect you to be reasonably well educated about the firm’s basics.” – Petty.
“This is your first opportunity to project excitement and enthusiasm. The interview is not just yes and no answers. Hopefully the interviewer is asking you questions that are open-ended, to permit you to explain your interests, your career goals, etc.” – Petty.
The structured summer program at WilmerHale will not only allow summer associates to undertake “intellectually stimulating” assignments from a range of practice areas, but they will also accompany lawyers to depositions, hearings, trials, client meetings, negotiations, and closings. Case teams will split the summers up to witness various litigation, investigations and deals, as well as encourage them to participate in existing pro bono opportunities. The firm treats its summers as fully-fledged junior associates by having a training program in place “to assist in their professional development and to give them a sample of the training and development we provide to our attorneys.”
The training topics include research, negotiation, deposition, presentation skills, legal writing, case studies and mock trials and departmental panels and meetings. Formal mid-summer reviews with co-chairs are in place to account for the progress.
Work aside, a partner/counsel and an associate will be assigned as advisors to each summer to mentor them through the firm. There’ll also be plenty of opportunities for summers to join in at office-wide meetings and lunches. Petty highlights a list of attributes that would make summer associates stand out at WilmerHale: “…being team players, taking initiative and ownership of their work, treating the experience as a real job, asking for feedback, showing enthusiasm, demonstrating attention to detail and understanding how to solicit and incorporate feedback into their work.”
“We encourage all candidates to talk to as many people as possible (past summer associates, alumni, current attorneys, etc.) and read everything they can about the firm. They should also be open to the range of practices and experiences offered at the firm.” – Petty.
“It would be helpful to understand the kind of work Wilmer does, but also read into the public interest work and figure out the spirit of the place.” –a third-year associate.
Lateralling to WilmerHale is a possibility if there’s a practice need. “Generally, we hire 50 to 60 attorneys laterally in a calendar year,” Petty informs us. “We hire from a variety of firms since we are often looking for specific practice area expertise or a geographic location. We also routinely consider candidates from government agencies, particularly for our regulatory and contested matters practices.” We’re told that the corporate/transactional, intellectual property and intellectual property litigation, investigations and regulatory spaces are the ones to keep an eye on for lateral hiring.
Sarah Petty tells us that “nearly all of our summer associates do return to the firm, either immediately after graduation or following a clerkship. Returning associates are asked to indicate their top three practice groups and are matched based on interest and firm needs.”
60 State Street,
1875 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW,
- Head offices: Boston, MA and Washington, DC
- Number of domestic offices: 7
- Number of international offices: 5
- Worldwide revenue: $1,297,089,000
- Partners (US): 234
- Associates (US): 561
- Main recruitment contacts:
- Lindsey Higgins (Firmwide)
- Jessica Natbony (Palo Alto and San Francisco)
- Cecilia Luppi (Denver and Los Angeles)
- Chelsea Marrocco (New York)
- Robert Hashimoto (Washington, DC))
- Hiring partners:
- John Hobgood & Sarah Petty (Boston)
- Ben Fernandez (Denver)
- Chris Casamassima (Los Angeles)
- Erin Sloane & Alan Schoenfeld (New York)
- Michael Mugmon (Palo Alto and San Francisco)
- Brenda Lee and Ben Neaderland (Washington, DC)
- Recruitment details
- Entry-level associates starting in 2022: 78
- Clerking policy: Yes
- Summers joining/anticipated 2022: 104
- 1Ls: 12; 2Ls: 92; 3Ls: 0; 5 SEO interns
- Summers joining/anticipated 2022 split by office:
- Boston: 31; Denver: 7; LA: 4; NY: 20; Palo Alto: 10; San Francisco: 3; Washington DC: 29
- Summer salary 2021:
- 1Ls: $4,135/week
- 2Ls: $4,135/week
- Split summers offered? Yes
- Can summers spend time in overseas office? Yes
Main areas of work
University of California-Berkeley, Boston College, Boston University, University of Chicago, Columbia, Cornell, Duke, Fordham, George Washington, Georgetown, Harvard, Howard, Loyola Law School - LA, University of Michigan, Northwestern, Northeastern, NYU, University of Pennsylvania, Santa Clara, Stanford, Suffolk, University of California- LA (UCLA), University of Colorado-Boulder, University of Denver, University of Southern California (USC), University of Texas, University of Virginia, Washington University, St Louis, Yale.
Recruitment outside OCIs:
Bay Area Diversity Career Fair, Boston Lawyers Group Diversity Job Fair, BU/BC Job Fair, Lavender Law, Loyola Patent Law Program, Rocky Mountain Diversity Legal Career Fair.
Summer associate profile:
We seek to hire an extraordinarily talented and diverse group of students whose academic and personal record of achievement demonstrates a commitment to excellence and who want to practice law at the highest and most demanding levels, while still enjoying lives enriched by public, professional and personal pursuits outside the firm. We have identified six competencies — commitment, confidence, oral communication, problem solving, teamwork and writing — that outline what constitutes outstanding performance at WilmerHale and are used to align our selection criteria and evaluations of candidates and summer associates with our expectations of attorneys. In addition, we seek individuals whose character, intelligence, judgment and training will inspire their colleagues and clients to have confidence in their advice and representation.
Summer program components:
By providing a realistic view of the firm through interesting work assignments, practical training and the opportunity to work and socialize with many of our lawyers, we give summer associates the insight needed to make an informed decision to join the firm after graduation or a clerkship. Summer associates do substantive client work and have the opportunity to try a broad range of practices or focus on a few, depending on their interests. Summer associates also have the opportunity to attend client meetings and trials whenever possible. Our mentors provide guidance and constructive feedback throughout the summer and make themselves available to their mentees as resources in the firm. We have developed training programs specifically for our summer associates designed to assist in their professional development by introducing the practical skills lawyers need and provide a sample of our training programs for our attorneys. Summer training topics include: research skills, leadership, negotiation skills, deposition skills, presentation skills/ oral communication skills, legal writing, departmental panels and meetings, case studies and mock trials. In addition, summer associates receive a review of their work and are encouraged to provide feedback about their experience.
This Firm's Rankings in
USA Guide, 2022
- Intellectual Property: Patent Litigation (Band 2)
- Litigation: Securities (Band 2)
- Venture Capital (Band 3)
- Banking & Finance (Band 2)
- Intellectual Property (Band 2)
- Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations (Band 3)
District of Columbia
- Antitrust (Band 4)
- Bankruptcy/Restructuring (Band 2)
- Corporate/M&A & Private Equity (Band 3)
- Intellectual Property: Litigation (Band 2)
- Litigation: General Commercial: The Elite (Band 2)
- Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations (Band 1)
- Media & Entertainment (Band 2)
- Antitrust (Band 2)
- Capital Markets (Band 2)
- Corporate/M&A (Band 1)
- Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation (Band 2)
- Intellectual Property (Band 1)
- Life Sciences (Band 1)
- Litigation: General Commercial (Band 1)
- Litigation: Securities (Band 1)
- Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations (Band 2)
- Private Equity: Venture Capital Investment (Band 2)
- Real Estate (Band 3)
- Tax (Band 2)
- Technology (Band 2)
- Bankruptcy/Restructuring: The Elite (Band 6)
- Intellectual Property: Patent (Band 2)
- Litigation: General Commercial: Highly Regarded (Band 1)
- Litigation: Securities (Band 3)
- Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations: The Elite (Band 2)
USA - Nationwide
- Antitrust (Band 4)
- Antitrust: Cartel (Band 1)
- Appellate Law (Band 1)
- Corporate Crime & Investigations: The Elite (Band 2)
- Derivatives (Band 3)
- FCPA (Band 1)
- Financial Services Regulation: Banking (Enforcement & Investigations) (Band 3)
- Financial Services Regulation: Broker Dealer (Compliance & Enforcement) (Band 1)
- Financial Services Regulation: Consumer Finance (Litigation) (Band 3)
- Government Contracts: The Elite (Band 4)
- Government Relations (Band 2)
- Government Relations: Congressional Investigations (Band 1)
- Intellectual Property (Band 1)
- International Arbitration: The Elite (Band 3)
- International Trade: CFIUS Experts (Band 2)
- International Trade: Export Controls & Economic Sanctions: The Elite (Band 4)
- International Trade: Intellectual Property (Section 337) (Band 5)
- International Trade: Trade Remedies & Trade Policy (Band 2)
- Life Sciences (Band 1)
- Native American Law (Band 3)
- Native American Law: Appellate (Band 1)
- Privacy & Data Security: Healthcare Spotlight
- Privacy & Data Security: The Elite (Band 2)
- Securities: Litigation (Band 4)
- Securities: Regulation: Advisory (Band 1)
- Securities: Regulation: Enforcement (Band 1)
- Startups & Emerging Companies (Band 3)