If you’re Hank-ering after high-profile tech work, this Wilson is no castaway.
If cutting-edge tech is what makes you tick, here’s a firm that has to be on your list. Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati (known to its friends and employees simply as Wilson) is one of the country’s top startup firms, having brought some of the biggest names in Silicon Valley to market (Apple, Twitter, Google and Tesla are just some examples). Certainly “the really cool tech clients” were a major selling point to the junior associates we spoke to.
As a tech and life sciences hub, Palo Alto is a natural home for Wilson’s HQ. There’s also a San Francisco office, plus two more Cali strongholds in LA and San Diego. Wilson also has a footing in other upcoming startup/life sciences hubs around the country, in Austin, Boston, Seattle, Boulder, and Salt Lake City. Over on the East Coast, Wilson has bases in New York, DC, and Wilmington,Delaware. This network of offices bring in top nationwide billings from Chambers USA for the firm’s work with startups & emerging companies. All told Wilson accrues a cool 29 rankings, with standout accolades for its debt & equity capital markets and securities litigation practices in California. Internationally, Wilson has offices in Hong Kong, Beijing, Shanghai, London, and Brussels.
Strategy & Future
Given the last two years, it’s hardly a surprise to learn that a firm that operates in pharma, life sciences and tech did extremely well in 2021, recording a hefty 17% growth in revenue. This was in line with the 15 to 20% increase predicted by Doug Clark, the firm’s managing partner, when we spoke to him. “We’ll have higher costs than last year,” he told us, “but we have healthy metrics.” The firm has shot up the AmLaw rankings on the back of this growth, jumping ten places from 46 in 2019 to 36 in 2021. The work moving forward, Clark notes, will cross both the transactional arm and litigation, with the increased scrutiny on tech and pharma driving up volume in the antitrust, regulatory and compliance area.
Sustainability is increasingly becoming an area of focus in the legal industry, and associates were pleased to share with us that Wilson is just one of three law firms to get an A for climate change according tothe 2021 Law Students for Climate Accountability report.
If, like Tom Hanks in Castaway, you’re now screaming ‘Wilson!’ Palo Alto is your most likely island, taking on over a third of all juniors on our list (around 50). DC, where the firm’s main antitrust department is housed, was the next biggest (21), followed by San Diego (15) and New York (12).
Around two thirds of the lawyers on the list had summered at the firm. Summers are asked about which practice group they want to get experience in before they start and once in the group, “there’s an online system and you take work [both transactional and litigious] across the firm from that.” Cross-office collaboration continues upon joining, while work allocation is a combination of a free-market system and assignments dispensed by “a fantastic work coordinator! No one gets overloaded, but they make sure there’s a balance,” one source praised. “But there’s organic assignment as well. You can reach out to partners for work you find interesting.”
“I can do anything from incorporating a company, to advising a company on board consents, to closing a $200 million series C financing.”
The firm is known for its transactional work, and around a half of the juniors on our list were in the firm’s corporate dept, with litigation taking around 20% of the rest. Associates also joined the IP, antitrust and technology transactions groups. The firm’s top-ranked debt & equity capital markets practice takes companies to market through a range of different mechanisms including direct listings and via special purpose acquisition companies (SPACs). The firm’s corporate practice represents mostly private companies ranging from startups to global behemoths. Transactional sources told us “I can do anything from incorporating a company, to advising a company on board consents, to closing a $200 million series C financing.” Sources had worked on SPACs, tenders, IPOs, and public company matters, and advised clients on a variety of issues like “how to frame new transactions,” for example. Across our research, sources were positive about the level of client contact, “which I got almost immediately. People were calling and texting me directly, which was gratifying.”
For those wondering how the firm’s tech transactions (TTG) team differs from the wider corporate team that also does tech transactions, this associate helpfully summed it up. “Tech transactions are specialist,” they told us. “So, if you want a specific contract, we’ll pull in TTG to review contracts.” Sources said: “TTG is a mainly contract-focused department focused on agreements driven by IP” and is split in two: “There is TTG IT, which is mostly tech, and then a biotech, pharma, and medical devices division as well.”
Corporate clients: CloudPhysics, Comlinkdata, Viracta Therapeutics. The firm advised Lyft on deals with Ford and Woven Planet (a subsidiary of Toyota) connected to autonomous cars.
While the corporate team had the most juniors on our list, the firm’s litigationpractice is no afterthought. Wilson covers patent litigation, securities, white-collar crime & government investigations, and general commercial litigation, and recently acquired a five-member team from litigation powerhouse Munger Tolles and Olson. As you’d expect, tech, pharma and life sciences companies feature heavily on the firm’s list of clients, but so do clients like Costco, which it recently defended in a $250 million shareholder class action.
With increased scrutiny on the tech sector from the DoJ recently, Clark notes with mild understatement antitrusthas been “quite busy.” The department, which sources told us “has its home in DC, with a significant outpost in San Francisco,” represents Google in a jumbo antitrust case. Alongside Google, Wilson represents several recognizable names in the tech, software, pharma and life sciences space and Clark confirms that the department expects to remain busy as a result of “heightened scrutiny of all activity in life sciences and tech.” Junior sources explained that the department does both litigation and transactional work, with juniors explaining: “If you want to choose one, you can, or if you want to balance the two, you can.” There’s also the opportunity to specialize in certain sectors if that’s what strikes your fancy such as M&A clearance or cartels work. The firm does both plaintiff and defendant work, but “skews more defendant because the DoJ is going after our clients,” sources noted with glee.
Juniors told us that “there’s a balance of responsibility” in litigious antitrust (also known as regulatory and compliance). “Some of our clients have specific requirements for what they’ll let first to third years do,” which meant less glamorous tasks for our sources. “On the flip side, when clients don’t have that requirement on the work you can do, you get a lot of responsibility. I’ve done brief writing, negotiated with opposing counsel, ran doc production, deposition prep, second chaired depositions, as well as some classic junior research tasks.” Because some of the bigger clients are particular about who does what, “the firm also wants you to have a balance of clients as well.”
Antitrust clients: Atrium Health; BNSF Railway; Credit Karma; DoorDash; and Twitter. Represented Mylan Pharmaceuticals in a potentially multibillion dollar class action suit.
Hours, Compensation & Culture
Two words consistently showed up during our research: “entrepreneurial” and “accepting.” Associates described the Wilson bunch as “people who aren’t afraid to introduce themselves and are willing to take the opportunities open to them.” Sources also felt “the culture is pretty cohesive nationwide” between the different offices.
“We’re not closing down fancy hotel bars at 3am!”
If there was one area where Wilson might be more Castaway than people wanted, it was its social scene. Some pointed to the fact that Wilson didn’t reopen its offices until March 2022, which was a little later than some other firms. “But even when we were there, it’s not a party firm,” interviewees clarified. “There’s the occasional lunch, but we’re not closing down fancy hotel bars at 3am!” That said, “some groups are more sociable than others.” But if a party firm is what you’re looking for, “our firm skews older and a lot of people have families and children, so going out isn’t a massive priority.”
Billable hours: 1,950 target
Plus, if you work at a rapidly growing firm representing clients working on cutting-edge technologies, it isn’t going to be an easy ride. Some juniors said “there are no boundaries on weekdays (and minimal weekend boundaries),” while others mentioned working “on almost every single holiday.” But associates were well tuned to client demands and said “that’s not something Wilson can change. If the client wants to file on Monday, the partner wants to file on Monday.”
Juniors also emphasized that “everyone is very mindful of people’s time. You’re going to work weekends,” they acknowledged, “but they [partners] ask beforehand, and if you haven’t taken vacation, they ask why not.” One source felt “there is a palpable sense of simply being nice to people.” For one interviewee, the support and interaction they got with partners was among “my top favorite things about the firm.” Another shared: “I’ve never felt like my questions were stupid, and I’ve never felt like an underling.” Across interviews, associates agreed that their senior colleagues had “a high tolerance for mistakes and a willingness to meet and speak openly.”
For those entering the firm as first-year associates, there is an assigned mid-level associate who acts as their mentor for the first six months, as well as a partner mentor and career development member for first and second years. “It’s really valuable,” thought one source; “I’ve picked up a lot of work from them.” There are also opt-in mentors for juniors, and lateral joiners are assigned a guide to help integrate them at the firm too. About a fifth of our survey respondents intended to make partner, and while not everyone intended to stay for the long haul, several people said if they were leaving Wilson it would be to leave BigLaw entirely. This was a common viewpoint: “I think I have a better experience in BigLaw than many.”
Diversity, Equity & Inclusion
Across our interviews, we heard “Wilson is doing a good job with D&I – they had D&I initiatives before they become a buzzword.” Some of these initiatives include “funding scholarships for underrepresented groups” as well as a 1L diversity summit and firmwide initiative with the NALP foundation.
Associates also praised the firm’s affinity groups, which include an Asian, black, Latinx, LGBTQ, women, parents, wellness, and veterans group. For Clark, it’s important that the firm’s D&I efforts are more than skin deep: “Stats are fine, but real diversity is about the actual work.” Juniors were also proud of the fact that Wilson is Mansfield-certified, and rated the firm higher than market average not only for recruitment of diverse associates, but also its retention efforts.
The firm’s commitment to D&I is matched by its commitment to pro bono – “you can bill unlimited hours and everything counts!” sources enthused. We heard everyone from “the chairman to summers do pro bono.” Sources liked that Wilson “puts its money where its mouth is and is actually representing people.” The firm’s pro bono department works with the Innocence Project to tackle wrongful conviction cases,as well as “small businesses that are trying to get filings in for the year.” The firm also works the “ACLU on matters related to race and police brutality.” We heard there’s also “a lot of family stuff” and “tax relief for veterans.”
Pro bono hours
- For all (US) attorneys: 62,334
- Average per (US) attorney: 53
The first stage: recruitment on and off campus
OCI applicants interviewed: 811
Interviewees outside OCI: 354
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.”
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
Applicants invited to second stage interview: 515
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
Interview with managing partner Douglas Clark
Chambers Associate: How would you describe the firm’s current market position?
We’ve had a strategic focus for the last 24 months, with growth in key practices. Litigation has grown. That’s in response to trial opportunity and demand. In the same period, the pandemic period, we’ve seen accelerated corporate demand; it’s been an interesting phenomenon. It’s created a strain on resources, but it’s a strong market and we’ve continued to invest in those areas. We’ve also been surprised by the regulatory activity. It’s been a healthy business environment, but a difficult period in terms of resources.
CA: The firm did very well financially in 2020 (nearly 20% growth), are you expecting a similar return in 2021?
We are. I expect a 15 to 20% increase in revenue. We’ll have higher costs than last year, but we have healthy metrics.
CA: How is the firm changing to accommodate the needs/expectations of the next generation of lawyers?
What we’ve learned, particularly during the pandemic, is that every generation has acute needs that have coalesced. Wellness and communication, as examples, cut across generations and so we’re focused on those. We are interested in sustaining our entire population.
CA: How busy is your antitrust department right now?
Quite busy. Regulatory is busy because the US government is focused on big tech. Our representation of Google is well known and so the group has been quite busy. There has been heightened scrutiny of all activity in life sciences and tech and litigation flows from both, so that’s kept us busy too. In another area, our cartels practice, enforcement efforts lagged for a while, but we see that eventually picking up, as well.
CA: What is the greatest challenge facing the firm in the next decade?
I think talent retention is the big challenge, but that’s true of the last ten years as well. I can’t see any reason why the need for talent would change. Only so many people graduate and we’re competing aggressively for them. We have a fast-growing industry with limited supply and there’s lots of demand from other industries as well.
CA: How has the rise in legal technology affected the firm? Are you implementing any specific programs/initiatives with regards to technology?
We see legal tech as an opportunity and have a number of initiatives, both internal and external. On In May 2021, our Emerging Companies Practice announced it was launching a new digital resource, for founders, entrepreneurs and venture capitalists. In June we launched a platform, which was developed internally, called Neuron, which streamlines, automates, and digitizes the typical legal processes for start-ups. Then in September, we announced that we partnered with Workiva Inc.—which simplifies complex work for thousands of organizations worldwide—to automate one of the most arduous tasks facing companies going public: generating the registration statement, or “S-1.” A few days later, we paired up with Morgan Stanley at Work to announce that we partnered to develop a new API that allows equity information for mutual clients to pass seamlessly between law firm and equity management provider. In short, we want to make our practices more efficient.
Meanwhile, SixFifty continues to develop sophisticated tools for consumers and companies, like one that generates HR documents that help companies with certain compliance requirements. At the moment it has around 500 companies using it and it’s thriving in Salt Lake City. When it comes to legal tech, we intend to lead not follow.
CA: Does the firm have any set targets with regards to diversity?
We have a strong commitment to diversity and internal initiatives to improve, not just numerical diversity, but to have genuine, substantive diversity. We have professionalised our diversity team. We have great affinity groups, which we’ve empowered. Stats are fine, but real diversity is about the actual work.
CA: Any advice for those about to enter the legal industry?
It remains a fulfilling career. Contributing to clients in the disruptive industries we represent is rewarding. Becoming a lawyer means being able to help others and expand access to justice. Those are just two reasons to become a lawyer. It remains a fantastic profession and is maybe more exciting than when I joined; it’s a totally different industry and I believe a better one. It’s a better time than ever to be a lawyer…all the mundaneness is being stripped out of it.
Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati
650 Page Mill Road,
- Head Office: Palo Alto, CA
- Number of domestic offices: 13
- Number of international offices: 5
- Worldwide revenue: $1.3 billion (2021 revenue)
- Partners (US): 282
- Associates (US): 786
- Main recruitment contact: Elizabeth Pond (email@example.com)
- Hiring partners: Wendy Devine, Andrew Hoffman, John McGaraghan, Kathleen Rothman, Libby Weingarten
- Diversity officer: Chris Boyd
- Recruitment details
- Entry-level associates starting in 2022: 111
- Clerking policy: Yes
- Summers joining/anticipated 2022: 2Ls: 104
- Summers joining/anticipated 2022 split by office: Austin: 4, Boston: 9, Los Angeles: 3, New York: 7, Palo Alto: 37, Salt Lake City: 2, San Diego: 6, San Francisco: 20, Seattle: 5, Washington, DC: 13. These numbers reflect 2Ls only. 2 Summer Associates splitting their time between two offices are counted for both.
- 2Ls: $4,135 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
Recruitment outside OCIs: Bay Area Diversity Career Fair, Boston Lawyers Group Annual Diversity Job Fair, Delaware Diversity Job Fair, Lavender Law Career Fair, Practice Pro Job Fair
Candidates are welcome to apply directly by sending their materials (cover letter, resume and law school transcript) to firstname.lastname@example.org or applying via our 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 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, 2022
- 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 3)
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 3)
- Privacy & Data Security: The Elite (Band 3)
- Projects: Renewables & Alternative Energy (Band 5)
- Securities: Litigation (Band 4)
- Startups & Emerging Companies (Band 1)
- Technology (Band 4)
- Corporate/M&A (Band 2)
- Intellectual Property (Band 4)