With its foot firmly planted in the Silicon Valley tech scene, Wilson Sonsini helps innovators and lawyers startup their careers.
As a firm sitting shoulder to shoulder with the boffins in Silicon Valley for over half a century, it’s no surprise that associates felt Wilson Sonsini’s client base was “unmatched in tech.” In fact, Wilson brought some of the biggest names in Silicon Valley to market (Apple, Twitter, Google and Tesla are just some examples). Anchored with a key base in Palo Alto, offices across San Francisco, LA, and San Diego, and stations on the East Coast including New York and DC, Wilson’s reputation is well recognized across the US. Case in point, our sister guide, Chambers USA, has awarded the firm’s startups & emerging companies work top honors.
“It’s not just that they do financing for the tech company, you also get to be a part of how the tech develops.”
But make no mistake, this is no one-trick pony. The firm has actually racked up a total of 20 rankings for everything from IP and tax to antitrust and privacy. It was clear then, for the current crop of associates, that Wilson was “a firm representing life science and technology in a broad way,” something which played a big part in their decision to join the firm. “It’s a practice that allows me to have a client base that is predominantly, if not all, based in the Silicon Valley area,” one insider revealed – “it’s not just that they do financing for the tech company, you also get to be a part of how the tech develops.” As such, “entrepreneurial” was the word on the tips of our interviewees’ tongues, citing “lots of room to craft your own career.”
There are slight variations in how work allocation manifests, depending on location. We understand that associates in the Palo Alto base can zip around practices for two years – those at other offices are hired into a practice group. Across these groups though, “the level of control is incredible, but so is the level of responsibility.” Not all groups stick to centralized staffing: “nobody really tells you the next steps,” sojuniorsneed an enthusiastic approach to clock in the hours…
In the corporate group however, “there is a staffing partner based in San Francisco who is responsible for workload,” helping to ensure associates don’t feel overrun. "He monitors everyone,” one insider told us, “I can flag if I’m overwhelmed and he’ll jump in and find someone to assist.” Associates can also highlight matters that interest them. Although, one junior told us this isn’t a priority early on – “I haven’t had a preference yet because I’ve been learning so much!” – they still felt free to not take on work they weren’t interested in.
“The majority of the work is cross-office.”
The work itself is mainly West Coast-focused, even though Wilson is growing its M&A base in New York and across the East Coast. “The majority of the work is cross-office,” a reflection of the geographic spread of the group’s clients across the US and internationally, particularly with UK companies – “there’s a big client base growing there.” Associates work with both public and private companies, representing both buyers and sellers, with juniors working on everything between “very small deals to those as big as the Google acquisition of Mandiant,” a transaction valued at almost $5.5 billion. For juniors this means “there’s a big focus on diligence, particularly buy-side; there’s a lot of managing that workflow and keeping the communications open for our specialists, reviewing corporate documents from an M&A perspective.”
Associates noted a difference between working on public and private deals. With the former “there are so many rules, SEC regulations, the markets and trading rules… I find it a bit overwhelming… I can wrap my head around private deals though – there’s a little less red tape!” We were told that on smaller deals juniors get a hefty amount of responsibility if they can show they’re client-ready, regularly emailing clients and talking with them on calls. One associate underscored the supportive nature of partners, senior associates and peers in the group. “Coming from my previous firm, Wilson does a much better job of supporting associates in a difficult job,” something that is demonstrated in the practice’s ability to reasonably balance work and life: “people have lives and are parents – nobody will chase you at the weekend or night unless something is urgent, not everything is a 911 emergency!”
Corporate clients: DoorDash, GoFundMe, LinkedIn. Advised Twitter on its $44 billion acquisition by Elon Musk.
Over in antitrust, “we can ask the business manager for work. He’s very helpful for staffing larger projects.” Associates can also post their availability and the kind of work they don’t desperately want to do on an online system. It was stressed, however, that “sometimes the work isn’t going to come through requests on the central system” so juniors need to show initiative to nab those of most interest to them. “On the regulatory side we have everything from larger second requests to HSR filings to smaller matters and general counseling,” while on the litigious side “we have government, private practice, and criminal work where we do things like representing witnesses.”
Day-to-day, this involves “prepping documents for deposition and making sure you’re not sending anything you shouldn’t to the other side!” While there is a lot of doc review, this can often manifest in a managerial role: “We contract out the work to doc reviewers – my role was to be the go-to person for the reviewers, holding meetings, clarifying instructions… so I’m still getting to know the different types of things available, but that definitely gave me the most sense of responsibility!” Clients are as similarly varied as the matters, ranging from large Fortune 500 companies to startups: “Our corporate arm handles IPOs and financing for smaller startups. In antitrust we represent them if they’re being acquired, and we sometimes help individuals being investigated.” Most of this work is more US-based.
Antitrust clients: Honda, Mylan Pharmaceuticals, Seagate Technology. Represented Google in over 20 antitrust cases alleging that Google monopolized or entered into illegal agreements with respect to online advertising technology.
Although there’s a workload coordinator available for litigation associates, some associates were yet to make use of the system: work allocation “is very organic. Although we’re submitting hours into the platform for availability,” assignment allocation is more relationship-based. Our interviews reckoned that “this helps juniors to be more proactive – if you want work you have to take the initiative!” The work itself comes mainly from the corporate group. “Most of the clients are public companies,” one insider outlined to us, with Palo Alto being particularly focused on securities regulation, investigations, and fraud. Individuals also make up part of the client base for white-collar cases. “For juniors, it’s about doc review and helping senior associates to prep for interviews,” which allows newbies to dig into “a lot of legal research on securities and fraud – if it’s like, securities litigation, you need to know the structure of the company.”
Litigation clients: Dropbox, Google, YouTube. Represented Colgate-Palmolive in an appeal against an $11.5 million judgment concerning allegations Colgate’s (and others’) talcum powder causes cancer.
Hours, Compensation & Culture
Billable hours: 1,950
“There are myths about the soul-crushing nature of BigLaw,” one junior proclaimed – “which are all false!” Across the board we heard that associates were more than satisfied with the “entrepreneurial” nature of the firm’s working and social culture. “It’s quite casual as well,” they continued; “we are what our clients are, and they’re Silicon Valley people.” Huh? “We wear gym clothes to work.” This philosophy is similarly mirrored in Wilson’s approach to remote working, which enables a fair amount of autonomy – “we even have someone working from Hawaii!” There is “some pressure for juniors to be in the office more, as shadowing is supposed to be easier in person,” one junior commented, but they added, “I’ve never felt like I couldn’t stay home if I wanted to.”
“There are days I’m in tears laughing with my coworkers!"
While the summer program is a great excuse to drive the social side of things, juniors didn’t feel under any pressure to be perpetually present for events; “the social life is there if you want it, but people have their own lives outside work.” Within work, getting lunch and coffee among colleagues is a commonality. One insider even told us, “There are days I’m in tears laughing with my co-workers!” Of course having “a strong divide between work and life has its pros and cons,” one junior noted, but the clarity of this divide does depend on the department; corporate and litigation practices for example, tend to be much more active around deal or case closings.
“We’re working insane hours of course,” another outlined as a hint of caution, adding though that “everything that surrounds it is a great work/life balance.” Balance is integral for efficiently clocking up BigLaw hours – 1,950 in Wilson’s case, for a guaranteed market-rate bonus. Associates rarely have to work extensively on the weekends, but can face all-nighters every so often where colleagues “will stay up with you to help get stuff done until 3am, so it’s nice to have that camaraderie.”
Wilson hosts a number of formal trainings, with a lot of it clustered around first, third, and fifth year. The firm also runs personal development academies, which enable more informal conversations. We heard the firm “just brought on two different professional development managers – they’ll help you figure out what you want your career to look like.” We also heard “there is an expectation that you’re the primary contact for a lot of these companies, so sometimes you feel you’re getting a lot of responsibility early on… but partners are keeping a close eye on you.” When it comes to attrition, mid-levels play the largest component: “Most goodbye emails are from people leaving for clients – there’s no mass exodus and most people moving firm are moving city.” It should be noted that, according to our survey, just over 30% of associates intend to make partner at the firm, which is slightly below the market average.
Diversity, Equity & Inclusion
As a Mansfield-certified firm, Wilson runs training to ensure there is continuous improvement in the area. “We take these principles very seriously,” managing partner Doug Clark stresses. "We also have a training cycle to bolster DEI in our organization, including unconscious bias training, which is important for ongoing activities and annual promotional cycles that are critical to individual careers, and ensuring those processes are fair. I went through the training recently and I’m better for it. It’s not just about a one-time, once-a-year program; it’s about being mindful day to day. Beyond Mansfield certification the firm also holds accreditation from the Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s Corporate Equality Index, achieving a perfect score relating to LGBTQ+ policies and practices for workplace equality. Associates did raise the issue of diversity within practices as lacking somewhat – “I do think the percentage of minority people in litigation is not that high compared to the corporate group” – but did concede this as a reflection of wider trends in BigLaw. Thankfully “there are lots of affinity groups in the firm,” which help to alleviate any sense of isolation, so “they’re trying to make everyone feel the sense of belonging.” Insiders also noted that “the firm makes an effort to recruit from diverse backgrounds,” from recruiting summers to promoting diverse people to more senior positions at the firm.
When it comes to pro bono, the firm’s “as much as you want” policy plays out well with juniors – Wilson’s associates typically clock up over 70,000 hours annually with around 400 nonprofit organizations. “There’s a lot of flexibility though,” one insider noted, highlighting that “there are people who are very involved and people who don’t really touch it.” Preference is the name of the game here as associates have an internal database of cases they can express interest in. “There are a lot of asylum cases,” we were told: “We have a strong immigration practice.” The nature of pro bono means juniors can take the lead on matters early on. Family law, consulting for nonprofits, and even some civil rights litigation are common cases juniors can throw themselves into.
Pro bono hours
- For all (US) attorneys: 6,954
- Average per (US) attorney: 62
Strategy & Future
Wilson looks to continue focusing on its expertise in representing technology and life sciences clients. Managing partner Doug Clark tells us that while “our demand has certainly been impacted by a slowdown in capital markets, it hasn’t affected the strategy.” The firm will continue to focus on its client markets, with growth planned particularly in London – this office recently doubled in size! Wilson has also begun bolstering its litigation practice, hiring nine partners over the past year in LA and planning to add more across the Bay Area. Clark continues, “In 2021, we were very busy on capital markets transactions, and although that’s been slower in 2022, this year has been strong for broader, ongoing corporate governance advice and M&A – the Twitter transaction being just one of a number of deals.”
The first stage: recruitment on and off campus
OCI applicants interviewed: 814
Interviewees outside OCI: 380
Given Wilson Sonsini’s strategic focus, it’ll come as no surprise that hiring partners look for those with “a strong desire to work with technology, life sciences and other growth companies,” the firm tells us. The firm recruits from “the leading law schools” as well as through resume drops. Interviews are conducted by partners who are on the hiring committee or are alumni of the school. A hiring partner adds: “Given our extensive work for technology, life sciences, renewable energy, and other growth companies at all stages of development, we are particularly interested in candidates who want to work for those companies. We are also interested in candidates who have the requisite scientific expertise for one of our intellectual property practices.” To prepare, our hiring partner source recommends candidates “know which practices and offices are hiring through the summer program. Read the bio of the attorney you are meeting on campus in advance.”
In 2023, Wilson Sonsini first offered a new early interview option for summer associate positions — the Accelerated Consideration for Employment, or “ACE” Program. Think of this as something akin to Early Action applications for university — an opportunity for applicants to show serious interest in Wilson Sonsini and get a decision from the firm on a much earlier timeline. For applicants who have done their research and know that they want to be at Wilson Sonsini, in a specific practice group, and in a specific office, this program offers an opportunity to begin the application process earlier and move through more quickly. By applying through ACE, applicants are indicating interest and intent above and beyond that of many general pool applicants and will stand out because of it. The firm's aim is to simplify this process for candidates so that they can get back to making the most out of their law school experiences.
The ACE application opened April 17 and closed on June 5, with the goal of making initial offers before most traditional screenings begin. Visit the firm's job openings page and use the “Summer Associate – ACE @ Wilson” posting to apply. The firm anticipates a similar timeline in 2024, and will make information available each year at careers.wsgr.com.
Top tips for this stage:
"Be prepared to explain why you are interested in our firm, in working with our innovative and distinctive client base, and ideally in one or more of our practices." – a Wilson Sonsini hiring partner
“A candidate who’s applying to Wilson Sonsini can really do one thing in my mind that will set them apart from other applicants, which is to show real enthusiasm and interest in doing well. I always say a young lawyer may make mistakes. A young lawyer may make errors. A young lawyer may not know this or that, or the other case. I can teach all of those things. But the one thing I cannot teach is that sense of enthusiasm and desire to do well. If you’re applying to Wilson Sonsini and you really want to stand out from the rest, the thing you can do to really project that ineffable quality that I’ve described is to show how much you care about your work.” – a Wilson Sonsini hiring partner
Applicants invited to second stage interview: 517
During callbacks, interviewees will find themselves in six one-on-one interviews either before or after a lunch with two attorneys. Typically, interviews last 30 minutes, while lunch interviews last around 90. Our virtual format is slightly different with an average of five one-on-one interviews with a break. At this stage, interviewers “tend to focus on questions that relate to past experience and demonstrated behaviors. We ask behavioral-based questions in an effort to understand the way candidates think and react to situations that frequently occur in the course of cases, deals, and other matters.” Callback interviewers tend to leave time for candidates to ask questions about the interviewer’s practice, experience at the firm, and other topics, so be prepared with good questions.
Top tips for this stage:
"Be yourself. We look for candidates who are genuine about their interests and desires. We like to see passion and enthusiasm about working at our firm and show that you have a solid understanding of what we do and the clients we serve."– a Wilson Sonsini hiring partner
Our hiring partner source tell us that Wilson’s summer program “incorporates many of the things important to our culture, including challenging and varied assignments, direct working relationships with our innovative clients, meeting a wide range of attorneys, and exciting social activities.” There’s no formal rotation process, and it’s on summer associates to choose which area they work in. Our source adds: “All summer associates are invited to Palo Alto to participate in a week-long Summer Associate Academy that takes place early in the summer. The Academy includes learning sessions, fun activities, and networking opportunities.” To unwind afterwards, summers get to enjoy “a relaxing retreat where summer associates spend time bonding as a class at destinations like Santa Cruz, Napa, and the Monterey Bay.” To make the most of the program, our source advises candidates to “get to know the attorneys, the client base, and the work. We give summer associates real work for innovative companies – it’s a great opportunity!” While most summers return to the same practice area they focused on during their summer, those who want to work in a different area have their requests “reviewed and considered on a case-by-case basis.”
Top tips for this stage:
"Work hard, show the desire to learn and have a great attitude. Get to know the attorneys, the client base, and the work. We give summer associates real work for innovative companies – it’s a great opportunity!" – a Wilson Sonsini hiring partner
"Work hard during law school and get involved on campus. Research our firm’s practices and clients, and get to know our attorneys when they visit campus for presentations, receptions and other events." – a Wilson Sonsini hiring partner
Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati
650 Page Mill Road,
Main areas of work
Recruitment outside OCIs: Candidates who know they want to be at Wilson Sonsini are invited to apply through the Accelerated Consideration for Employment, or “ACE” Program. ACE offers candidates who know which Wilson Sonsini office and practice group is right for them the opportunity to show their interest by applying early. ACE applications are reviewed on a rolling basis in the Spring with the goal of making initial offers before most traditional screenings begin. Candidates are also welcome to apply directly by sending their materials (cover letter, resume and law school transcript) to firstname.lastname@example.org or applying via https://careers.wsgr.com/openings/
Summer associate profile: We look for candidates who are enthusiastic about working at our firm and for our client base, and have a solid understanding of what we do and the practices we have. Given our extensive work for technology, life sciences, renewable energy, and other growth companies at all stages of development, we are particularly interested in candidates who want to work for those companies. We are also interested in candidates who have the requisite scientific expertise for one of our IP practices. Depending on the experience, we typically prefer candidates with prior work experience. Given our particular client base and entrepreneurial orientation, work experience for technology, life sciences, renewable energy, or other growth companies is particularly valuable, as is experience starting a company or student organization. We also value experience in management consulting, accounting, paralegal roles and similar types of backgrounds.
Summer associate components: Our summer program offers law students an opportunity to observe and participate in the work of the leading provider of legal services to technology, life sciences, and other growth enterprises worldwide. The summer period at our firm incorporates many of the things important to our culture: challenging and varied assignments, direct working relationships with our innovative clients, meeting a wide range of attorneys, and exciting social activities that take advantage of our locations in technology centers around the country.
This Firm's Rankings in
USA Guide, 2023
- Antitrust (Band 4)
- Capital Markets: Debt & Equity (Band 1)
- Intellectual Property: Patent Litigation (Band 5)
- Intellectual Property: Patent Prosecution (Band 3)
- Intellectual Property: Trademark, Copyright & Trade Secrets (Band 2)
- Life Sciences (Band 2)
- Litigation: Appellate (Band 2)
- Litigation: Securities (Band 1)
- Technology: Transactions (Band 2)
- Venture Capital (Band 2)
- Tax (Band 4)
California: San Diego
- Corporate/M&A (Band 1)
California: San Francisco, Silicon Valley & Surro
- Corporate/M&A: The Elite (Band 2)
- Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation (Band 2)
- Chancery (Band 2)
District of Columbia
- Antitrust (Band 2)
- Life Sciences (Band 2)
- Antitrust (Band 2)
- Technology: Corporate & Commercial (Band 2)
Texas: Austin & Surrounds
- Corporate/M&A (Band 2)
USA - Nationwide
- Antitrust (Band 2)
- Antitrust: Cartel (Band 2)
- Capital Markets: Equity: Issuer Counsel (Band 2)
- Corporate/M&A: Highly Regarded (Band 2)
- International Trade: CFIUS Experts (Band 3)
- International Trade: Export Controls & Economic Sanctions: The Elite (Band 3)
- Life Sciences (Band 2)
- Privacy & Data Security: The Elite (Band 2)
- Projects: Renewables & Alternative Energy (Band 5)
- Securities: Litigation (Band 4)
- Startups & Emerging Companies (Band 2)
- Technology (Band 4)
- Corporate/M&A (Band 1)
- Intellectual Property (Band 4)
- Litigation: General Commercial (Band 3)