Eeny, meeny, Wilson Sonsini... associates with a taste for tech law found picking this Silicon Valley firm a no-brainer.
GOOGLE, Twitter, LinkedIn, Netflix. Your average law student's web browser bookmarks, or a snapshot of Wilson Sonsini's client list? Both, actually. “There aren’t many firms that excel in the tech sphere and have the same depth as we do,” a California insider told us. In 1980 the firm represented a little company called Apple during its IPO; recent mega matters include acting for LinkedIn on its $26.2 billion acquisition by Microsoft. As well as big public companies, Wilson also represents the household names of tomorrow: startups and individual inventors. Chambers USA ranks Wilson top of the league nationally for both corporate/M&A and startups and emerging companies work.
“I wanted to work for interesting smaller clients while benefiting from the resources and opportunity for cross-staffing that a national firm would give me,” one Palo Alto resident explained. Wilson Sonsini's name tops 11 US offices and five overseas (London joined the party in 2018) so it certainly fits the bill. At the time of our interviews the majority of associates were based in the Palo Alto HQ followed by San Diego, Washington DC and San Francisco.
Just under half the firm's junior associates were in corporate, with the rest split between various IP groups, litigation and antitrust. Bay Area-based juniors lock into the firm's ‘LAUNCH’ system, spending their first two years rotating through various areas before settling on one. How structured this is varies – some reported: “It's really up to you how many you try; if you find something you like you can pursue it more.” LAUNCH has a dedicated program coordinator who staffs matters based on associates’ availability, though we heard “you can still get work directly through partners if you want to.” Things are more informal in Wilson's smaller offices where “assignment is very organic,” with some oversight from a partner.
“The firm operates a model of trying to incorporate small companies and help them grow. Back in the day we incorporated Google, so that’s the ideal model,” a corporate associate told us. Corporate clients fall into one of three categories: early stage startups, private midmarket companies and large, publicly traded ones. Sources told us the generalist work could be split into venture financing, M&A and IPOs, and that “people usually end up doing two of the three.” In corporate finance juniors had tackled “capital market offerings, high-yield bonds, convertible note offerings and leveraged buyout financings. We do some venture lending with smaller startups that are traditionally seen as risky investments.” Palo Alto sources appreciated that “Wilson is different from many East Coast firms in that you’re not forced to specialize in one area like M&A or capital markets.”
“Back in the day we incorporated Google, so that’s the ideal model.”
Corporate associates’ workloads included drafting “governance documents, stockholder transfer agreements and financing documents in an IPO setting.” A Palo Alto third-year “had complete ownership of the main disclosure that goes out for a capital market offering, as well as handling ancillary documents and purchase agreements.” Down in San Diego, one rookie told us: “Startup clients often try to keep costs down by relying on juniors,” suggesting that “all the responsibility can be a double-edged sword. It means you end up getting thrown in at the deep end, and then finding out if you can swim.” Taking a sunnier view on things, another junior explained that “the work is less about transactional law and more client-centric. Being ready to support whatever deal comes along really forces you to broaden your practice.”
Clients: LinkedIn, Tesla Motors, Hawaiian Airlines. Assisted tech company Microchip Technology in its acquisition of semiconductor provider Microsemi, the deal value totaling $10.3 billion.
Subgroups within Wilson's litigation practice include distinct IP and patent litigation teams, plus securities and commercial litigation. Antitrust is an entirely separate group, concentrated mostly in DC and New York (as well as overseas in Brussels). We heard from sources in IP litigation that “teams are leanly staffed so I was on client calls right off the bat.” Motion writing, discovery issues, preparing for and attending depositions and writing up expert reports were also on the junior's remit. “At the beginning it’s tough because you hit the ground running, which can be difficult if you’re not confident enough to ask for help,” sources reflected. “I learned a lot in a very short period of time because of that.”
Technology and life sciences companies are the most common clients in commercial litigation, where securities disputes sit alongside post-IPO and derivative suits. The common thread across litigious practices was getting stuck into things quickly: “I went from having little understanding of discovery to managing the entire process as a second-year. Young associates are given a lot of opportunity to take control and make a difference.”
Clients: Twitter, Netflix, SanDisk. Represented telecom company Cyan in a Supreme Court case concerning whether securities class actions may be brought in state courts.
The LAUNCH program comes with “a lot of formal training that continues as you become more senior. There are various lunchtime training sessions and mentorship programs.” Rigid training regimes can alienate some, but we only heard good things about “professional development sessions that were really helpful. There was maybe too much information given at first, though.” Wilson's practice lends itself to on-the-job education. “The culture of startup work lends itself to a more hands-off approach,” a source explained. “There are more low-margin tasks so the incentive of partners is to bring in as much work as possible and hand it down the chain.” Interviewees lapped this up and felt “the most helpful training I've received has been from the people I work with day to day who are invested in my career.”
“The firm’s not interested in burning people out.”
Associates were optimistic about their long-term prospects at Wilson. “The firm’s not interested in burning people out,” those we spoke to explained. “They want you to be the best lawyer you can be.” There were mixed reports about mentoring: some felt “lucky to fall into a group with amazing people as it can vary,” but others argued: “People are always willing to take time to mentor you without prompting.” A Seattle junior reckoned “the best thing about the formal development programs was being able to meet people across the firm and make connections in different areas.”
Associates in the Bay Area and beyond told us: “You definitely have to work with other Wilson offices” on most projects. A Seattle source explained that “working here forces me to meet people outside of my office. In Palo Alto they don’t really need to leave the mothership but I’ve worked with people in DC, New York and Austin.” Palo Alto residents agreed: “It’s pretty central here. We’re working on integrating our office more with the rest of the firm.” Those in the firm’s smaller practices like patent prosecution told us: “Clients are staffed based on specialty needs so we work all across the country. I feel well connected.”
“It’s more entrepreneurial, which goes back to our Silicon Valley roots.”
Piercing through the smog of law school hearsay and bad experiences in the legal world, sources described the culture at Wilson Sonsini as “a breath of fresh air. It’s more entrepreneurial, which goes back to our Silicon Valley roots; the culture is a mixture of legal and business expertise.” Going into more detail, a junior explained: “People here aren’t aggressive but they are proactive in that they’re happy to seek out what they want to do.” Associates outside California had a similarly sunny view: even in notoriously rainy Seattle an insider told us: “People at Wilson are very friendly and respectful, they respect that you have family and friends outside the firm.”
Many also had buddies at Wilson Sonsini: “We often hang out outside of work and we all look out for each other.” Though they enjoyed Friday burgers and beers with colleagues, and the firm hosts events like associate happy hours throughout the year, “it's not a party culture here,” according to Palo Alto insiders. “You're not forced to attend events.”
Strategy & Future
Associates explained that “Wilson is in a unique position because it’s competing with firms in New York as well as in Silicon Valley where the focus is more on startups. It's the traditional law firm model with a twist, so we can continue to serve two guys in a garage with an idea.” Some felt “there’s been a shift recently toward being a West Coast-style version of an East Coast firm and taking on more sophisticated deals.”
“We can continue to serve two guys in a garage with an idea.”
“It’s clear that the firm leadership has innovation in mind,” a junior confirmed. “The IT team is always asking how they can help us work more efficiently and no idea is a stupid one.” Managing partner Douglas Clark tells us: "We have tremendous visibility on high levels of litigation and regulatory work, both of which accrue matters that will last for significant periods of time. Public financings are more market-driven than private but the strength of those two principal industries gives us confidence that our success will continue." He adds: "A couple of other technologically driven practices that have and will continue to have a strong performance are cybersecurity, cryptocurrency and blockchain."
Hours & Compensation
Wilson Sonsini fared well in the 2018 summer salary race, associates boasting: “The firm actually came out ahead of our typical competitors, so everyone’s feeling pretty good about that.” Management also followed the market on summer bonuses. Associate pay runs in lockstep “with some potential flexibility” until seventh year, and everybody who meets the 1,950 hours target becomes bonus-eligible. Juniors can include up to 50 hours of shadowing and citizenship activities toward the target.
1,950 may be the minimum, but corporate insiders had “heard the ideal number of hours is around 2,100, which is pretty reasonable when you take the ebbs and flows into account.” Contrastingly, IP juniors in nonlitigious practices reckoned it was “harder for us to meet the target because you’re working on ten to 15 cases at a time. We’re definitely not short on work but it’s harder to bill a solid eight hours a day.” Taking all this variation into account an average day at Wilson Sonsini ran 9am to 6pm, though many logged back in from home later on. “There’s no official policy” on flexible working “but the partners treat you like an adult. If you do it too much eyebrows will raise but generally if you’re getting work done nobody will say anything.”
Associates can count unlimited pro bono hours toward their billable target. “No one’s forcing you to do it, but people are genuinely interested and I've found it really rewarding. It’s been one of the most positive parts of my experience here.” A full-time pro bono coordinator circulates different opportunities each week firmwide. “I was able to learn about employment and contract law as well as immigration cases,” a patent attorney told us. “Everyone really values pro bono and encourages me to take more on.” We heard about in-house counsel roles for health associations and nonprofit corporate work; Palo Alto juniors helped immigrants who'd become victims of crime with U visa applications.
Pro bono hours
- For all US attorneys: 40,442
- Average per US attorney: 72
“Really understanding the tech scene and community is a huge differential,” according to insiders at Wilson. “That's something to quickly check off which tells us the candidate gets what we're doing.” Find more interview tips under the 'Bonus Features' tab above.
Diversity & Inclusion
Tracking a change in attitudes, some felt “in the past diversity at Wilson has been more of an informal effort. More recently the firm’s been trying to formally factor it into recruiting.” Commending these efforts, they pointed out “there are actually more women than men at junior level, the problem is keeping them around.” Diversity at partner level is the next step for the firm – 23% of partners are female, around the industry average. “Clearly there’s still plenty of work to be done, but there’s an awareness of that and willingness to have the conversations needed to improve.”
“It was really special to bond with women from other practice groups and offices.”
Wilson's Women's Task Force came in for praise: associates applauded a recent summit held in Palo Alto, uniting women from across the firm’s global network to discuss issues including retention, leadership and recruitment. Those who had attended told us: “It was really special to be able to bond with women from other practice groups and offices.”
The first stage: recruitment on and off campus
OCI applicants interviewed: 1,000
Interviewees outside OCI: 61
Given Wilson Sonsini’s specialist practice, 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 recruits from “the leading law schools” as well as through resume drops. Interviewees 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.”
Top tips for this stage:
"Be prepared to explain why you are interested in our firm and ideally in one or more of our practices." – a Wilson Sonsini hiring partner.
Applicants invited to second stage interview: 497
During callbacks, interviewees will find themselves sitting across from between six to eight attorneys. Typically, interviews last 30 minutes, while lunch interviews last around 90. At this stage, hiring partners “tend to focus on questions that relate to “fit” within the firm. We ask behavioral-based questions in an effort to understand the way candidates think and react to different situations.” Once again, associates emphasized the importance of location, explaining: “You need to understand the difference between the Silicon Valley and New York practices. In Silicon Valley it’s a little more entrepreneurial and you get to see the full life cycle of companies, whereas in New York it’s more involved in large public companies.”
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 practices we have."– a Wilson Sonsini hiring partner.
Offers: 203Acceptances: 87
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 Summit that takes place early in the summer. The Summit 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 spent their summer in, 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,
- Head Office: Palo Alto, CA
- Number of domestic offices: 11
- Number of international offices: 5
- Worldwide revenue: $845 million
- Partners (US): 215
- Associates (US): 485
- Main recruitment contact: Elizabeth Pond (firstname.lastname@example.org)
- Hiring partners: Kathleen Rothman, Maura Rees, Andrew Hoffman
- Diversity officer: Chris Boyd
- Recruitment details
- Entry-level associates starting in 2019: 57
- Clerking policy: Yes
- Summers joining/anticipated 2019:
- 2Ls: 90
- Summers joining/anticipated 2019 split by office:
- Palo Alto: 41.5, San Francisco: 6, San Diego: 6, Los Angeles: 2, Seattle: 5, Boston: 6.5, NY: 3, Washington, DC: 15, Austin: 5
- Summer salary 2019:
- 2Ls: $3,654 per week
- Split summers offered? On a case-by-case basis
- Can summers spend time in an overseas office? On a case-by-case basis
Main areas of work
Berkeley, Boston College, Boston University, Chicago, Cornell, Columbia, George Washington, Georgetown, Penn, Harvard, Hastings, Michigan, Northwestern, NYU, Santa Clara, Stanford, University of Texas, UC Irvine, UCLA, USC, USD, UVA, UW, Yale.
Recruitment outside OCIs:
Candidates are welcome to apply directly by sending their materials (cover letter, resume and law school transcript) to www.wsgr.com/attorneyrecruiting
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, 2019
- Capital Markets: Debt & Equity (Band 1)
- Intellectual Property (Band 4)
- IT & Outsourcing: Transactions (Band 2)
- Life Sciences (Band 2)
- Litigation: Securities (Band 1)
- Venture Capital (Band 2)
California: San Francisco, Silicon Valley & Surro
- Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation (Band 2)
District of Columbia
- Antitrust (Band 2)
- Antitrust (Band 3)
- Corporate/M&A (Band 1)
- Tax (Band 3)
- Technology: Corporate & Commercial (Band 3)
USA - Nationwide
- Antitrust (Band 2)
- Antitrust: Cartel (Band 3)
- Capital Markets: Equity: Issuer Representation (Band 3)
- Corporate/M&A: Highly Regarded (Band 1)
- International Trade: Export Controls & Economic Sanctions (Band 4)
- Life Sciences (Band 3)
- Privacy & Data Security (Band 3)
- Projects: Renewables & Alternative Energy (Band 2)
- Securities: Litigation (Band 4)
- Startups & Emerging Companies (Band 1)
- Corporate/Commercial (Band 2)
- Intellectual Property (Band 4)