If you’re looking for a firm with strong government ties, a powerhouse litigation group, and a historical commitment to pro bono, WilmerHale doesn’t fail!
Sometimes it’s good to have a bit of background to see where a firm’s coming from. In WH’s pre-merger times, there was Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering, with its extensive Supreme Court experience and a strong government presence in DC. Then there was Boston native Hale and Dorr, which carried 100 years of history and a long commitment to public service. Mix them together, and you know you’ve got the best of both worlds. Since the firms merged, WilmerHale has really made the best of both its co-HQs. The firm boasts an impressive number of ex-government officials in its DC office, resulting in some serious top-tier kudos for white-collar and government investigations work from Chambers USA. Over in Boston, WH thrives in the life sciences and IP spaces, and Chambers USA also recognizes the firm’s equally formidable corporate/M&A, securities, and general commercial litigation practices.
“The firm leverages its government and civil rights experience in a unique way.”
Associates at the firm were proud to be part of this Wilmer tale, and the culture truly sealed the deal. “It excited me,” recalled one source, “in terms of its dedication to its clients, litigation, and pro bono work.” Another said that they were “really drawn to the firm’s history of public service and its strong reputation for government work. It also has really unique practices, like its strategic response, Congressional investigations, and antidiscrimination groups. I get to conduct civil rights and racial equity audits for companies, and that’s paying client work. The firm leverages its government and civil rights experience in a unique way.” Finally, this junior told us that they “got the sense that Wilmer not only has a really smart set of lawyers, but also that it has a much more livable culture that is very authentically curious and not competitive.”
Most associates were based in the New York, DC, and Boston offices, but the Denver and California bases also scooped up a fair few. Litigation was by far the most populated practice group, followed by the transactional, regulatory, IP, Supreme Court and appellate groups. WH promotes a generalist approach for litigators’ first few years at the firm, after which they select a specific practice group to join. “The approach makes you a more valuable candidate five years or so down the line when you might be thinking about doing something different,” a source highlighted. Insiders were quick to sing the praises of their (group-specific) practice managers who assign and monitor work. “You can be proactive and ask for something specific and they’ll see what they can make happen,” one associate explained, “but they’ll also be the intermediary and cover if you need to say no to something.”
Litigation is certainly the big seller at WH and, to broadly summarize, the department works on a variety of general commercial, white-collar and government investigations, securities, and IP cases. Sources told us that lean staffing on teams means juniors get a lot of hands-on experience. Given the firm's trial focus, many newbies go to trial in their first or second year. “I definitely didn’t expect that,” one junior commented. “I also didn’t think I would get much insight into the mechanics of a case so early on, but I’m in the room for a lot of strategy discussions.” For one interviewee, a partner made this proposal: “‘You know the facts and the clients so well, why don’t you run the case as a more senior attorney would?’ And now I’ve been managing the team for the past two years!” Matters are frequently cross-staffed between locations, meaning “it feels less like an office-specific practice group and more like the work of the firm as a whole.” Tasks for juniors included doc review, drafting motions and depositions outlines, and attending depositions: “When people get to know me, they’ll keep handing me stuff to draft!”
Litigation clients: Apple, Shell, Pan American Health Organization. Represented Apple in a lawsuit filed against NSO Group to hold it accountable for the surveillance of Apple users via NSO’s ‘Pegasus’ spyware.
IP litigation is a firmwide specialty of WH, and litigators work together with the firm’s attorneys in the core IP department. Essentially, IP core lawyers handle the early, technical stages of matters, whether they are related to areas like patent prosecution or issues that are about to evolve into litigation. In the latter scenario, “we’ll be assessing the technology and the patents, and working closely with the client to determine what the issues are and what the other side may be alleging. We might be reaching out to experts and helping them to prepare expert reports as well.” After that, IP litigators can deal with the more traditional litigation side, but “that doesn’t mean it’s divided as a black and white relationship. Everyone is involved in the whole process.” Those in the core IP group had been working on patent-related matters and explained that “our typical clients are high-profile tech and pharmaceutical companies.” Sources liked that they could balance patent prosecution and litigation matters, because “if you want to become partner or go in-house it’s always good to have diversified experience.”
IP clients: Columbia University, Biogen International, Quest Diagnostics. Representing Biogen International during a series of appeals relating to its patent that covers a method of treating multiple sclerosis.
On the transactional side, associates get a flavor of everything, including M&A, capital markets, and emerging companies/venture capital startup work. We heard that associates quickly begin to specialize. Interviewees were quick to tell us that the firm has a strong foothold in the life sciences sector. Early experience is key, and juniors reportedly get a lot of this on startup work as the first point of contact for clients. “You really don’t want to be in that position where you spend four years with a client and have never spoken to them outside of breathing heavily on a call! That direct client contact can be scary, but it’s so helpful,” a source noted. Beyond that, juniors work closely with senior attorneys who are “willing to give you a chance to contribute substantively so you can become a well-rounded lawyer. I’m working on multiple different types of transactions with companies at different stages.” In addition, “the general size of the team on any matter spans a junior associate, a senior associate, and a counsel or a partner, so you really do get a lot of exposure to people at a senior level.”
Corporate clients: WeWork, Medtronic, Gemini Therapeutics. Represented Akamai Technologies in its approximately $900 million acquisition of Linode.
Associates typically felt that the firm was invested in them from the get-go, with one interviewee noting how thorough the orientation training is. Following on from that, “the firm really encourages a mentorship culture, and everyone is given a partner and a peer mentor when you start,” another source explained. Partner mentors and mentees meet up at least twice a year to review progress, while peer mentors meet on an as-needed basis. Although most interviewees agreed partnership is not discussed so much at the junior level, partner mentors “help us think at each level about the skills and experiences we need to develop for the next step.” Others noted that the firm does not shy away from conversations about alternative career moves, and that common exit routes include going in-house or into government positions. “I feel like it’s not a topic that people avoid, and that’s welcome,” a source enthused. “It’s difficult to become a partner at a major law firm and being honest is important – some firms pretend that’s not true and drive everyone to focus on the internal structure instead of the personal achievements in an employee’s life, but that’s not the case here.”
“...they’ll have a sense of your interests, perspectives, and what’s important to you.”
More informally, senior attorneys were praised for giving juniors feedback, which included detailed explanations not just on what did or did not go well, but why something is important: “People go out of their way to mentor and teach you. Even if they’re not on your case, they’ll take time out of their day to explain.” However, we heard that if you want to take charge of your own career development, a good relationship with your practice manager is key. One source told us: “Once you have a good relationship with your practice manager, they’ll have a sense of your interests, perspectives, and what’s important to you,” all of which helps to get juniors staffed on matters that they’re interested in or need more exposure to.
“...some of these people are rockstars in the field, but they have this air of humbleness about them.”
Many felt that WH’s welcoming atmosphere stood out the most. “We actually care about each other’s lives and don’t see each other as just co-workers,” one associate gushed. “We’ll talk about our weekends and ask about each other’s kids!” The prevailing sentiment was that WH people are “bright, nerdy, and caring.” One associate was shocked at how “some of these people are rockstars in the field, but they have this air of humbleness about them. Even the hard-hitting partners are open to learning from the most junior people on the team.” This was said to help juniors interact with attorneys at all levels, as “it doesn’t feel like every partner is their own separate kingdom.” Sources also felt that the focus on intellectual curiosity encourages people to bond: “It’s been very collaborative and much more casual than I expected. There are a lot of opportunities to be your authentic self and to just joke around with people.”
Associates added that the firm’s cultural hubs in DC and Boston “have permeated the New York and West Coast offices.” Those in Boston have “a lot of home office pride – we've maintained the Hale and Dorr tradition of having a lobster lunch with the whole office.” However, sources who had spent time in different offices said that they “struggled to find differences in culture based on city,” so you can expect a variation of Boston’s lobster-based bonding across locations.
The beauty of pro bono at WH is that “we take on massive, in-the-news pro bono cases, but the firm also really sees itself as having a role of giving back to the community.” The pro bono experiences of interviewees attested to this, with many recounting stories of representing individuals in compassionate release cases, housing court matters, and asylum work. More generally, associates described the firm as “progressive and liberal,” pointing to its involvement in reproductive rights work and the allocation of its government expertise to voting protection and election reform matters.
“It’s not just a line, but something people live and breathe.”
With an unlimited amount of pro bono counted as billable, “there’s never a conversation where you’re told that you’re doing too much,” with some sources indicating that they had billed a few hundred hours in a year. We also heard that attorneys at the firm are always keen to talk about what they’re working on as “it’s not just a line, but something people live and breathe.” Practice managers distribute matters – including opportunities on the transactional side – but attorneys are welcome to bring in their own pro bono work with approval. What’s great about pro bono for juniors, as one interviewee explained, is that “on these matters I get a bunch of client exposure. There’s always a partner at the helm, but associates are deeply involved.”
Pro bono hours
- For all (US) attorneys: 123,829
- Average per (US) attorney: 134
Hours & Compensation
Billable hours: 2,000 for full bonus
It appears that WH’s attorneys are high billers not just when it comes to pro bono: many of our interviewees highlighted that they were set to exceed the firm’s billing target quite comfortably. As one associate commented: “High billers don’t feel pressure from the firm or clients to bill that amount. They truly treat it as a passion and work so hard because they love it.” The fact that an unlimited amount of pro bono, plus 50 hours of DE&I, can count toward the target was felt to make it more manageable. What's more, “the benefit of being a generalist firm is that there are so many avenues for work to come from. You can spread your time across groups, so if you’re looking for work there’s always something happening.”
“...the culture encourages everyone to pitch in.”
Insiders typically felt that there was a good amount of communication around bonuses and salaries, with praise given to the firm for being quick to match market increases and offering adjusted bonuses for those who just miss the 2,000-hour mark. Interviewees told us that WH remains flexible when it comes to working hours, giving them some control over what times they work, even when the nature of the job means hours can really vary. However, when things are about to get hectic, “I’ve found I have a fair amount of warning and understanding. I've never felt like I’m busy, but my team isn’t. The distribution here is fair, and the culture encourages everyone to pitch in.” For corporate associates, “the week or two before a deal closing is incredibly work-heavy, but the week after is slower,” while for litigators “prepping for trials is its own beast: it can be all-consuming for a couple of months in that you’re not working nonstop, but you are expected to be available, which is fair.”
Diversity, Equity & Inclusion
Many interviewees spoke highly of the firm’s diversity summit and felt it symbolized the WH’s commitment to DE&I. It was held at the DC HQ and brought together diverse attorneys across all the global offices for two days of networking and training. Insiders told us that attendants could also submit their concerns on diversity as part of an anonymous Q&A, including firm-specific issues and obstacles that diverse attorneys face more broadly within the profession. Aside from allowing associates to bill these hours at the summit, the firm made it clear that this event was to be treated as a priority: “I was told that it’s okay to communicate that you’re at the summit and can’t get to work right now. When I made that boundary clear to others, everybody was respectful.”
“...a great way of introducing people from various affinity groups.”
Associates generally agreed that the firm’s headed in the right direction on improving diversity, but that there’s still a way to go in terms of numbers. Some were disappointed at the lack of LGBTQ+ representation at the partner level, even though there’s a large community of LGBTQ+ lawyersat the firm. It should be noted, of course, that not everybody will publicize personal information. “I would like to see more, but I’ve never felt that it’s a place that doesn’t support me.” In fact, it was clear to many that the firm environment meant that people “don’t shy away from their true identity.” This source explained that “the firm does go out of its way to create a sense of community. The affinity groups meet once a month, and we also have smaller support circles that are a great way of introducing people from various affinity groups.”
Strategy & Future
Co-managing partner Robert Novick explains that there are three main pillars to WilmerHale’s growth strategy: “Growing our transactional practice is at the core of our growth strategy. We are also working on maintaining and replenishing our government-facing capabilities and becoming even more of a destination for trial matters.” Novick clarifies that much of the work done at WilmerHale – whether litigation, investigations or regulatory – often revolves around the firm’s strong government-facing capabilities and public policy practices.
A big shift for WilmerHale in DC has been the move in January 2023 of its new office “with a smaller footprint, open office configuration, and a collaborative, engaging, animated environment. It’s been particularly valuable post-pandemic, and we’ve seen greater office attendance,” says Novick. 2023 is a year of transition at WilmerHale with new department and practice group leaders largely in place and a new managing partner beginning in 2024. Novick explains that advancing DEI has been central to WilmerHale’s mission during his time as co-managing partner – including with the introduction of an Executive Committee on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, the Racial Justice Reform Initiative and multiple scholarships and partnership pipelines for diverse law students and attorneys – and this will continue into the next generation of leadership at WilmerHale.
The first stage: recruitment on and off campus
OCI applicants interviewed: 1,330
Interviewees outside OCI: not tracked
WilmerHale spreads its wings across the country to recruit candidates from 26 law school OCI programs and recruited at four job fairs last year. 2021-2022 saw members of the hiring committee and alumni conduct around 1,300 OCIs. The firm searches for candidates who know what they like about WilmerHale and can see themselves fitting into the bigger picture. Beyond a strong academic record and relevant prior experience, the hiring team is looking for candidates who work well in teams and build relationships. Those with strong leadership, problem-solving and analytical skills will thrive at the firm, as will excellent writers and oral communicators. Applicants should be prepared to talk confidently about everything on their resume, including any awards or journal contributions.
Applicants invited to second stage: 682
Successful candidates are called back to the offices (or remotely) 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. The firm provides applicants with an interview schedule so that they have the chance to research the interviewers in advance and learn about their practices. WilmerHale advises that candidates review firm news and look at recent press releases as interviewers expect applicants to be reasonably well-educated about the firm’s basics. Aside from that, it’s always a good idea to be yourself during the interview process as finding the right fit is as important as finding top talent.
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 provided to 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. Summer associates who typically stand out are team players who take initiative and ownership of their work. The firm also advises summers to treat the experience as a real job, show enthusiasm, demonstrate attention to detail, ask for feedback and understand how to solicit and incorporate that feedback into their work.
“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. The firm generally hires 50 to 60 attorneys laterally in a calendar year, from a variety of firms. Lateral hires are chosen based on specific practice area expertise or geographic location, so WilmerHale routinely considers candidates from government agencies for its 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.
60 State Street,
2100 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW,
- Head offices: Boston, MA and Washington, DC
- Number of domestic offices: 7
- Number of international offices: 5
- Worldwide revenue: $1,243,384,000
- Partners (US): 224
- Associates (US): 522
- Main recruitment contacts:
- Jessica Natbony (Palo Alto and San Francisco)
- Cecilia Luppi (Denver and Los Angeles)
- Lindsay Thompson (New York)
- Samantha Amoonarquah (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 2021: 85
- Clerking policy: Yes
- Summers joining/anticipated 2021:
- 1Ls: 4; 2Ls: 83; 3Ls: 1; 5 SEO interns
- Summers joining/anticipated 2021 split by office:
- Boston: 24; Denver: 4; LA: 3; NY: 20; Palo Alto: 9; San Francisco: 3; Washington DC: 26
- Summer salary 2021:
- 1Ls: $3,700/week
- 2Ls: $3,700/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, , 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, 2023
- Environment (Band 5)
- 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 2)
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 2)
- 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 4)
- 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: Congressional Investigations (Band 1)
- Government Relations: Federal (Band 2)
- Intellectual Property (Band 1)
- Intellectual Property: Appellate (Band 1)
- International Arbitration: The Elite (Band 4)
- 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 3)
- Life Sciences (Band 1)
- Native American Law (Band 3)
- Native American Law: Appellate (Band 1)
- Privacy & Data Security: Healthcare (Band 1)
- 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)