With a growing transactional remit and nation-leading strengths in IP and life sciences, this prestigious outfit offers juniors much more than just a springboard into government agencies.
That revolving door between law and politics is well known in BigLaw. Lawyers leave their firms, have their moment in the political spotlight, and then return to their former stomping grounds with the benefit of practical experience and a handy new address book of contacts. Indeed, many of the most eminent politicians have been attorneys: research from a Yale law professor in 2013 showed that more than half of all presidents, vice presidents, and members of Congress in US history had a background in law. WilmerHale is a firm that has had no shortage of notable names go through that revolving door: think – most recently – of Robert Mueller, but also of Paul Eckert, who was special assistant to President George W. Bush, and David Cohen, the Deputy Director at the CIA. As of January 2021, eight attorneys had joined President Biden’s administration, with former Wilmer partner Alejandro Mayorkas picked to serve as US Secretary of Homeland Security.
“We have people going to and from every government agency you can think of,” said one source. “That gave me hope that if I wanted to switch there would be resources to support that transition.” While other juniors who joined WilmerHale shared a similar hope, it’s not the only reason associates targeted the firm. Those interested in corporate work came for the opportunity to work on smaller venture capital deals as opposed to the giant M&A matters at larger New York firms. Those with their heart set on becoming litigators were drawn to Wilmer’s rep for “taking on complex cases – you have the opportunity to work with some of the best litigation attorneys in the country.” Outside of practice-specific reasons was the overall “prestige of the firm,” with this source explaining: “When I got the offer from Wilmer, I felt like I had got into an Ivy League. You can’t say no to Harvard.” Nationwide strengths for the firm in Chambers USA include antitrust, appellate, financial services regulation, government relations, IP, life sciences and securities regulation. In DC, the firm stands out for its white-collar crime and investigations know-how, while in Boston its corporate/M&A work shines and in New York its general commercial litigation expertise gets the star treatment.
DC and Boston – the firm’s joint HQs – house just under two thirds of the firm’s US attorneys. Beyond these bases, Wilmer boasts five international offices and six more in the US, in New York, Denver, LA, Palo Alto, Dayton, and (most recently) San Francisco.
The juniors on our list were mostly based in the joint HQs, but New York also took on a fair chunk too. Wilmer’s overarching litigation/controversy department absorbed the most incomers, followed by the transactional department (which encompasses groups like corporate, bankruptcy, labor & employment and tax). The rest of the associates were split quite evenly between the regulatory & government affairs; IP; and securities departments. Work assignment at Wilmer typically blends a more formal system – a practice group assignment coordinator – and a more informal one, which is founded on the organic relationships associates form with partners and counsel.
Litigation/controversy juniors start as generalists but by the fourth year are encouraged to declare a specialism in investigations, securities, business litigation or IP litigation. “There’s a huge client base,” said one junior, with clients found in fields such as banking, defense, technology and life sciences. New York reportedly leans “heavily toward servicing the financial industry, with securities work and white-collar investigations built up here.” On an internal investigation matter, one source was able to “first and second-chair interviews by the end – typically if you’re doing a good job and you put your hand up for more responsibility, people are accommodating.” Securities-related work, meanwhile, had involved putting together presentations for the Securities and Exchange Commission. This interviewee reflected that “there have been some strictly junior roles – like researching memos and citation checking – but I have written first drafts of briefs, memos and requests for discovery production and interrogatories. I've also worked on fact development to build up case chronologies.”
Litigation/controversy clients: T-Mobile and Deutsche Telekom, Facebook, Merck. Secured a win for client Comcast against the State of Washington’s claims of deceptive marketing.
Corporate juniors are also generalists. While juniors and midlevel associates can potentially specialize, our sources understood that the general message is that “Wilmer wants you to do most groups.” For one source, this meant work could “range from incorporating a startup to working on commercial software services agreements.” On the West Coast, juniors had worked on venture capital financing deals and assisted with the firm’s ‘QuickLaunch’ program, which involves “setting up and incorporating” startup companies. We heard there was more variety elsewhere, with this New York junior explaining that “right now I'm on an M&A deal, but I also have a public company client and I’m doing venture capital work.” There was also capital markets work on offer and we were told that “we do a lot of IPOs for companies in the pharmaceutical space seeking Food and Drug Administration approval for certain drugs. Once the IPO is done, we keep the client for public company counseling.” Typical tasks for first-year juniors included “leading the due diligence front,” “combing through data rooms” and drafting ancillary documents. One source did, however, celebrate having the “opportunity to draft the main financing documents for a venture capital deal” – with oversight of course.
Corporate clients: Analog Devices, BioCatch, Thermo Fisher Scientific. Represented the latter – a biotech product development company – throughout public offerings made between October 2019 and March 2020.
The firm’s regulatory and government affairs department covers antitrust; cybersecurity and privacy; defense, national security and government contracts; energy, environment and natural resources; strategic response; and international trade, investment and market access. The latter group is reportedly concentrated in DC and helps clients to “respond to Congressional inquiries or prepare for Congressional interviews.” Sources found it unique because it blends “politics, law and public relations: if a client is testifying before Congress you want to remind them that there’s an audience out there beyond the chamber. You want them to be accurate.” The lawyers here are often responding to and managing a sensitive crisis for clients. An interviewee described how the team will conduct internal investigations at companies and universities and “recommend reforms that are helpful.”
Regulatory and government affairs clients: Northrop Grumman, L3Harris Technologies, Humanetics. On the strategic response side, Wilmer recently represented T-Mobile and Deutsche Telekom in Congressional hearings following attempts by various state attorneys general to block their merger with Sprint.
Strategy & Future
Sources predicted that WilmerHale will grow in California, with expansion mostly focused on the startup market, as this transactional junior explained: “The firm has a strong belief in company lifecycle counseling, where we get clients as startups then advise them through their IPO and status as a public company. All in all, we’re busy with lots of venture capital and IPO work, and I think that’s going to ramp up.” The recent hire of a new capital markets partner was felt to signal the firm’s intention to “work its way into new corporate areas – he was bringing in new deals that weren’t necessarily our sort of deals.”
Over in DC, a regulatory and government affairs source anticipated that “it’s going to be a really exciting time with the Biden Administration.” They highlighted that there were "lots of folks from the firm in the Clinton and Obama Administrations,” and therefore felt that WilmerHale will be well placed to advise in this new political climate. “I think our group will grow because of our understanding of the Biden Administration’s priorities, what the next steps might be and where the levers of operations are.”
As we’ve mentioned, Wilmer is a springboard for many looking to bounce on over to the federal government. “A partner told me that ‘Wilmer is your home, so learn your craft but don’t shy away from wanting public work,” one junior happily relayed. “I love that Wilmer can be the home to return to after you’ve been out at the federal government.” Juniors felt that there was a “clear path” to counsel positions at Wilmer and saw them as a more attainable option – at least in the mid-term, with opportunities opening up around the fourth and fifth year. Partnership was felt to be a tougher nut to crack, with the firm described as being “very selective when it comes to who they promote to partner.” This junior explained more: “It seems other firms of a similar size promote 30 people each year, but here it’s an accepted thing to be an experienced counsel who hasn’t been promoted to partner.” We were told that “partners are invested in getting us a broad range of experience and will encourage us to take on assignments that aren’t classically ‘junior.’”
“I love that Wilmer can be the home to return to after you’ve been out at the federal government.”
Hours & Compensation
Billable hours: 2,000 requirement
Hours-wise, there were reports of peaks and troughs in both the transactional and litigation departments. A New York litigator reported how they could go from having “a big rigorous workload to billing a few hours a day,” while another in Boston said that the pandemic had made hitting the billing target a challenge: “I went from billing 60 hours one month to 170 the next. I’m now very busy and above what I should be hitting at this point.”
Unpredictability was more expected among transactional associates, with one describing dips in billing to 120 for the month compared to a normal range of 200–240 hours. When corporate deals heat up, so do the hours: “It was all hands on deck for a month with one merger,” recalled one source; “a lot of us were working more hours and I got to over 300 hours in that month.” Another found that they were regularly working until 11pm, but in relative terms were grateful for their hours: “I have friends at x and x firms and my work/life balance seems way better! They’re needing to be responsive at 4am...” Interviewees across the board appreciated that after more intense periods, “there’s an understanding from the firm that you’ll need to reset.” Wilmer was viewed as “making a big effort to foster a healthy work/life balance.”
“They’re thoughtful of their growth so when tough times hit, everyone’s still on the payroll and offers aren’t rescinded.”
Hitting the 2,000-hour target grants associates a market-rate bonus, which increases in 200-hour increments. If associates demonstrate exemplary performance and/or contributions in a given year, they can also be eligible for a special merit bonus. Juniors did highlight that Wilmer is typically slower to announce its bonuses in comparison to other firms, with this source explaining that “most firms have announced whether or not they’re giving COVID bonuses, but Wilmer announced in January that it was looking at final billable hours and weighing things up.” While this was “a little frustrating” for some, it was generally agreed that Wilmer tends to “match eventually,” with a few emphasizing how they appreciate the firm’s “reactionary” and “follower, not trendsetter” approach: “They’re thoughtful of their growth so when tough times hit, everyone’s still on the payroll and offers aren’t rescinded,” one junior concluded.
Juniors can count all their pro bono hours toward the billing target. Wilmer expects its attorneys to devote at least 20 hours to pro bono each year, with “close to 100% of attorneys” reaching that as a minimum. Our sources revealed that some people bill way more than that though: we heard of one junior who had clocked over 500 hours! (Although note the average below is 137 hours). “Everyone mentions during recruiting how important pro bono is and that there’s no cap,” said one associate, “but it’s seriously impressive here!”
We heard of juniors taking part in all manner of pro bono activity. What impressed our interviewees was “the responsive nature [of the firm] to what is going on in the country.” Sources mentioned “all-hands-on-deck election cases,” which involved “working on a train and turning around briefs in 24 hours,” as well as the firm’s ramping up of social justice and racial equality initiatives over the past year: “The firm increased all pro bono efforts to work on the Black Lives Matter movement and police reform in the US.” We were also told about a “class action lawsuit that was brought to decongest an Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention facility in light of COVID-19.” Alongside these especially topical matters, juniors also spoke of participating in landlord/tenant, asylum, Planned Parenthood/reproductive justice, and Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts matters. “I was super proud getting to write an entire appellate amicus brief on my own for a client I brought in,” one source beamed.
Pro bono hours
- For all (US) attorneys: 123,559
- Average per (US) attorney: 137
Sources were quick to describe Wilmer as “a scholarly firm” with attorneys who are “out of this world smart.” One source noted: “People are friendly, but we’re not a rowdy bunch. It’s a place of scholarly individuals rather than what you might see on TV of a stereotypical New York firm.” Others noted the affable balance of these qualities and described colleagues as “nerdy, intellectual, and normal. People are incredibly willing to mentor both up and down.” Any potential fears about pitching up at a firm of inaccessible geniuses proved to be unfounded, with our sources highlighting a distinctly human touch to lawyerly life at Wilmer. “I have found my colleagues so inspiring in terms of the work they do and the way they carry out their values,” shared one. “People are open and have conversations about the world – they’re engaged in things beyond just day-to-day work.”
“It’s a place of scholarly individuals rather than what you might see on TV of a stereotypical New York firm.”
Diversity & Inclusion
“It’s evident that it’s a commitment and they have it in mind when hiring,” said a New York interviewee. Another in Boston supported this and told us that their “summer class was the most diverse in the firm’s history, covering a whole combination of factors including race, gender, age and sexual orientation.” When it came to current diversity programs for attorneys at the firm, we heard about diversity mentors, talks, diversity circles and “casual lunches,” which proved to be meaningful for this female associate: “It’s been really important to see female leadership at the firm, and the regular meetings and lunches have been really great.” At the time of our calls, an associate also mentioned that the firm has “two fellowships focused on race-related issues. They’re starting these very soon, so I’m excited to see what they grow into. It’s good to see Wilmer put its money where its mouth is and continue this fight for social justice and racial equality.”
Common issues around diversity in BigLaw – like the retention of minority attorneys – were flagged by interviewees, with a New York source noting that “we have a lot of diverse associates, but I’ve seen many leave.” This Boston interviewee did point to encouraging progress when they emphasized how “the partner and counsel elevation classes are getting more diverse based on what’s come before.” Another junior flagged that “like law firms in general, we do struggle with Latinx representation – we have affinity groups but Latinx representation is something we’re still working on.”
OCI applicants interviewed: 1,645
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.” – hiring partner.
“We also encourage candidates to have a writing sample prepared (be sure to proof it!).” – hiring partner.
Applicants invited to second stage: 500
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.” – hiring partner.
“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.” – hiring partner.
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.” – hiring partner.
“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: $1,243,384,000
- 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, 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, 2021
- Antitrust (Band 4)
- Intellectual Property: Patent Litigation (Band 3)
- Litigation: Securities (Band 2)
- Venture Capital (Band 3)
- Intellectual Property (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)
- 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)
- Government Contracts: The Elite (Band 4)
- Government Relations (Band 2)
- Intellectual Property (Band 1)
- International Arbitration: The Elite (Band 3)
- International Trade: CFIUS Experts (Band 2)
- International Trade: Export Controls & Economic Sanctions (Band 4)
- International Trade: Intellectual Property (Section 337) (Band 4)
- 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 Table
- 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)