Winston & Strawn LLP - The Inside View

Looking for a widespread firm offering a generalist start to litigation and corporate? Look no further than this Windy City native who makes juniors’ entry to BigLaw feel like a breeze.

Of all the BigLaw players in the fields of litigation and corporate, you’ll find few as welcoming on the ground level as Chicagoan Winston & Strawn. “During my interview, I realized how easy it was to talk about anything with anyone there. It made me realize I have more in common with the law firm partners than I’d imagined!” one wide-eyed newbie said of their reasons for selecting W&S. And it seems no one’s looked back since; a whopping 93% of survey respondents agreed they were happy in their current role at the firm, with a staggering 97% agreeing they’d chosen the right firm to practice at.

“If I wasn’t here, I wouldn’t be in BigLaw.”

But that’s not to say there’s no hard work involved; the firm’s Chambers USA accolades certainly didn’t materialize out of thin air. “The firm’s earned the respect it has,” interviewees reflected. “W&S is a powerhouse filled with incredibly talented and intelligent attorneys leading a lot of interesting work.” Indeed, the firm’s ten office network across the States band together to win the firm top medals for its corporate crime & investigations and transportation expertise, while it’s antitrust, capital markets securitization (CLOs), e-discovery & information governance, international arbitration, offshore energy, product liability & mass torts, projects, and sports law practices are also highly commended. An additional five offices across London, Brussels, Paris, Sao Paulo, and Shanghai make up the firm’s international reach. With such a broad scope of practices available, our sources noted the deciding factor ultimately “boils down to who you’d like to do hard work with.” One interviewee put quite simply: “If I wasn’t here, I wouldn’t be in BigLaw.”

Hailing from the Windy City, the firm’s Chicago office naturally takes on the lion’s share of juniors, followed by New York and the two Texas offices (Dallas and Houston).

The Work

It’s the best of both worlds at W&S when it comes to work assignment. “We have an assignment coordinator for the first two years,” a junior explained. “We report our hours expectations to them on a weekly basis, and then we get emails about being staffed on the assignments we’ve expressed interest in.” But that doesn’t mean juniors are expected to wait around; the firm predominantly follows a relationship-based system for work assignment, which encourages newbies to build those organic connections. “To be candid, most of my work has come about through building relationships with partners and senior associates,” one insider divulged. That isn’t to say the assignment system is left to fall to the side, however. Many of our sources expressed their relief for having the formal system to fall back on in times of need: “It can be the Wild West out here sometimes, so I know certain people like to rely on the staffing coordinator. They’re pretty efficient at staffing matters!”

W&S’s litigation practice encompasses a number of subgroups, including (but not limited to) government investigations, enforcement & compliance, complex commercial litigation, intellectual property, antitrust/competition, and securities. Newbies join as generalists and are encouraged to try their hand at a much (or as little!) as takes their attention. “It really depends where your interests lie,” an interviewee commented on the scope of their work. “I do a large mix of matters right now, but if you want to focus on one area you can usually do that as well.” It’s not until their third year that juniors are asked to specialize. Sources who’d had a chance to experiment across subgroups explained complex commercial litigation cases often had larger teams, while white-collar ones were more leanly staffed. Of course, regardless of the matter at hand, it’s pretty common that juniors will come across plenty of doc review and drafting in their day to day. On those leaner teams, associates spoke of “opportunities to work more closely with partners” on tasks like deposition and motion drafting.

Litigation clients: The Kraft-Heinz Co., Motorola, Hikma Pharmaceuticals. Represented Fox News against defamation lawsuits filed by US Dominion Voting Systems Corp.

“They’ll let you take a swing, even if it’s a miss!”

The firm’s corporate remit predominantly covers capital markets, finance, and mergers & acquisitions, as well as specialist areas like real estate, financial services, private equity, and environmental. The story here for specialization is not too dissimilar to that of litigation; newbies also start off as generalists before deciding where to affiliate. “If you truly had no idea what you wanted to do, you could try your hand at all areas,” an insider explained. Indeed, variety seems to be the key word here; we heard matters range greatly in value and size, “from sophisticated clientele to a father-son duo selling a small company.” On such cases, you’ll find juniors busy reviewing contracts, carrying out diligence, drafting ancillary documents, and – once they’ve got some experience under their belts – managing more junior associates. “If you’re good at something, you’ll continue to get more work no matter what your year is,” an interviewee told us of their responsibilities. “Teams can be leanly staffed, so you’ll get a lot of ownership of your work.” This level of independence was valued highly by our associate sources who felt the autonomy only strengthened their development: “They’ll let you take a swing, even if it’s a miss!”

Corporate clients: Norwest Equity Partners, ClearCompany, Ocelot. Represented Motorola Solutions in its acquisition of software company Rave Mobile Safety.

Strategy & Future

After 17 years at the helm, firm chair Tom Fitzgerald is stepping down, which means there’s a new sheriff in town. “Steve D’Amore will be our new firm chair stepping in from the Chicago litigation group,” insiders reported. “He’s been at the firm since 1994, so he knows what he’s doing!” As part of a leadership overhaul, the firm’s also elected four partners, dotted across London, LA, New York, and Chicago, to serve in new leadership roles alongside D’Amore. The locations of the newly elected leadership team certainly weren’t lost on our interviewees, who noted, “It seems the goal is to achieve a larger international footprint.”

Pro Bono

The firm asks associates to undertake a minimum of 25 hours of pro bono work, which our associate sources had already far surpassed. “I think almost every office has exceeded that already,” an associate noted. “Most people happily do 50 to 100 hours.” It’s lucky then that the firm allows associates to contribute up to 100 pro bono hours towards their billable targets.

Sources were happy to report that pro bono matters were “readily available” with a dedicated coordinator regularly updating associates on new opportunities. “It’s a two-way exchange,” insiders noted of their pro bono involvements. “I love doing work that has a good impact, but it also creates a space for people at all levels to get experience in substantive work and trial experience and prep.” Matters range from citizenship clinics to asylum work, wills and trusts, housing rights, and many more. And if any of the firm suggested opportunities don’t take your fancy, you’re welcome to look for what interests you elsewhere: “You can bring in your own work and they’re passionate about listening and taking those cases seriously.”

Pro bono hours

  • For all US attorneys: 56,896
  • Average per US attorney: 66

Hours & Compensation

Billable hours: 2,000 requirement for bonus eligibility

Bill 2,000 hours and you’ve secured your market rate bonus. Within this 2,000 threshold is a 100-hour allowance for “things like pro bono, firm investment - pitches, panels, articles - DEI, or firm citizenship.” The busy few that exceed that billable target can expect a notable bump in their bonuses for every additional 100 hours on top of the original 2,000. Associates praised the transparency here: “The bonus isn’t discretionary which is really great.”

The firm has a hybrid working system in place that is largely practice and office dependent, and the associates we spoke to appreciated its flexibility: “There isn’t a huge ton of pressure with coming into the office, as long as the work gets done.” Those that did opt to come in found that Tuesdays and Thursdays were particularly popular, with Wednesdays standing out for those in Chicago and New York. “There's a chilled out happy hour we do after work as well,” a local associate commented.


“…it’s great to be among likeminded people.”

As with any large law firm, there’s a bit of an eclectic mix of sub-cultures at W&S. “It’s an office-by-office thing, and it also depends on the practice group,” an insider commented of the firm’s working cultures. That said, there were a few factors that rang true across the firm. Of course, it’s a firm full of committed lawyers, but everyone’s on the same page when it comes to having a life outside of law: “People have a vibe that they want to do work and then go home. I don’t believe that work should take over your life 100% of the time, and it’s great to be among likeminded people.” However, that’s not to say this bunch don’t enjoy the time they do spend together: “Everyone’s really supportive and respectful of one another, and those that do like to go out and chill outside of work do so!”

As for this lot’s social calendar, it comes back to that office and practice group dependent culture with some groups meeting regularly for golf outings, cinema trips, and coffee mornings, while others meet up for quarterly happy hours. Our sources across Chicago and New York boasted about having more events than other offices, but were keen to note there’s no firm-mandated socializing. “They know that most people want to get their work done and go home to their families,” sources reassured, noting that “the firm’s very supportive of attorneys with families.”

Diversity, Equity & Inclusion

Speaking of being family friendly, associates had high praise for the firm’s parental leave policy. “It’s five months, and then when you’re back, your hours are pro-rated 50%. The policy is a great reason to stay for me,” one forward-thinking associate noted. And the praise didn’t end there: 80% of W&S survey respondents agreed that the firm makes partnership achievable for attorneys with children.

On a broader scale of representation, slow and steady change seemed to be the mood of the room. “The junior classes are really diverse which is great to see, but we do face the problem every law firm has when it comes to the more senior levels,” we heard. It’s clearly something that’s on the firm’s mind, however: of the most recently elected partnership class, 50% are diverse attorneys. Interviewees were also keen to note that the current junior class has record numbers of both women and attorneys of color. “There are clear tangible efforts being made towards recruiting diverse talent,” they said.

Part of the firm’s many DEI efforts includes a diversity retreat held every two years; the last one being held in Miami in 2022. “We’re flown out to a location where we have a big convention,” an attendee explained. “I had an awesome time there; all the discussions and talks were so important.” In addition to this are the firm’s many affinity groups which form a community of support. “Senior women make the effort to reach out to us and let us know we have a resource in them,” said a female associate.

Career Development

“All my informal mentors have been out of this world…”

Starting out, newbies are assigned an associate and a partner mentor, which largely benefitted many of our sources. “I’m close to my associate mentor; they’re great for giving me guidance and answering questions I maybe wouldn’t necessarily be comfortable asking a partner,” an insider explained. Alongside this, associates also pick up mentors more organically through deal teams and staffing. “All my informal mentors have been out of this world, always making time to teach me things,” gushed a source.

While there isn’t a huge emphasis on business development at the firm, associates did note a number of training sessions that can be sought out. “There’s a lot of great corporate and litigation trainings, and you can have meetings around growing your network at any stage of your career,” we heard. Turning to the question of partnership, associates explained that although discussions around what it takes aren’t common, anyone at the firm will happily answer any questions you do have. Most of our sources seemed pretty optimistic about the prospect: “If you focus on being the best lawyer you can be, the partnership aspect takes care of itself!”

Get Hired

The first stage: recruitment on and off campus

OCI applicants interviewed: 827

Interviewees outside OCI: 224

Winston generally focuses on OCIs from the country’s top law schools. The firm also attends job fairs that “allow us to focus on recruiting diverse candidates and those with technical backgrounds interested in specific areas of the law,” Bill O’Neil, chair of the hiring committee, explains. Winston generally interviews 1000 students firmwide each year. Interviews are typically conducted by a team of two attorneys – often a partner and an associate from different departments.

“Our interview questions tend to focus on three core values: intellect, leadership and interpersonal skills, and grit,” O’Neil tells us. For intellect, interviewers ask questions that are aimed at revealing students’ analytical skills, judgment, and decision-making process: “We may ask how their undergraduate major will prepare them to tackle some of the challenges they’ll face as a lawyer.” For leadership, interviewers focus on students’ interests outside of the classroom and their interaction with others: “We may ask about experiences they’ve had working on teams and the roles they play; challenges they’ve faced as they’ve adapted to law school; their proudest accomplishment, and what sort of activities they engage in for fun.” Finally, for grit, they’re on the look-out for work ethic, motivations, business savvy-ness, and resilience: “We may ask about a student’s most challenging work or school assignment and how they handled it; steps they’ve taken to ensure success in law school; the career path they would have chosen had they not gone to law school; and their most rewarding work experience.”

Top tips for this stage:

“Be yourself.  But be the best version of yourself.  Listen carefully to the questions and try to answer using examples from your own experiences. Genuine answers are the best answers.” – Bill O’Neil, chair of the hiring committee


Applicants invited to second-stage interview: undisclosed

In general, each student meets with at least four attorneys – a combination of partners and associates. Each interview typically runs between 20 and 30 minutes. Interviews are held in the attorneys’ offices, which “provides opportunities for students to see our space and informally meet others at the firm as they are escorted from office to office,” says O’Neil. A callback interview could also include a lunch, coffee break or another meeting in a less formal setting.  Winston also hosts evening interview programs in some offices.

“At the callback stage, we are primarily focused on ‘fit’ – both for us and for the student,” O’Neil tells us. “At this stage, we are examining our mutual chemistry and cultural fit. We ask questions that are designed to allow the candidates to demonstrate in greater depth their interpersonal and leadership skills, their grit, their analytical skills and judgment, and also what drives them.”

Top tips for this stage:

“Listen carefully; be genuine; share your unique experiences and perspectives; and show us that you know about our firm.  But be prepared to do that for a longer period of time over the course of back-to-back interviews. Remain enthusiastic and engaged throughout each of the interviews.” – Bill O’Neil, chair of the hiring committee

Summer program

Offers: 160 (both 1L and 2L offers)

Acceptances: 94 (1Ls and 2Ls)

Winston’s ten-week summer program provides “real work experience, including pro bono work, mentoring relationships, training, and networking opportunities,” O’Neil explains. Assignment coordinators assist summers in getting assignments based on summers’ preferences.

Summer associates are assigned at least one formal mentor and there is a formal lunch program that allows any attorney to take one or more summer associates to lunch: “This is a great opportunity for summer associates to connect with attorneys in a less formal environment,” notes O’Neil. The summer program focuses on providing training opportunities for all summer associates across Winston’s two major departments: Litigation and Transactions. Litigation training is often focused on a mock trial and/or a deposition. The Transactions component typically consists of a workshop designed around the negotiation of a purchase agreement.

“Social activities are crucial components of our summer program and provide summer associates with a great feel for the firm’s culture.” The firm has many social events that “allow our summer associates to share fun experiences and develop strong personal relationships with each other and with our attorneys.” Some of these events include sporting, art and cultural excursions, as well as lunches and dinners.

Top tips for this stage:

“One of the greatest benefits of our summer program is the opportunity to build deep, meaningful, and lasting relationships with peers and mentors. When our summer associates return as full-time associates 16 months later, it is those relationships that allow them to hit the ground running and access great professional development opportunities early in their career.” – Bill O’Neil, chair of the hiring committee


Winston & Strawn LLP

35 West Wacker Drive,
IL 60601-9703

Main areas of work

Antitrust/competition, appellate and critical motions, capital markets, class actions, complex commercial litigation, , cryptocurrencies, digital assets & blockchain technology, e-discovery & information governance, employee benefits and executive compensation, energy, environmental, finance, financial services, funds, government investigations, enforcement & compliance, health care & life sciences, intellectual property, international arbitration, labor & employment, litigation, maritime, mergers & acquisitions, , patent litigation, privacy & data security, private equity, product liability, project finance, real estate, restructuring & insolvency, securities litigation, securitization, sports, structured finance, tax, technology, media & telecommunications

Firm profile
For more than 170 years, Winston & Strawn LLP has served as a trusted adviser and advocate for clients across virtually every industry. In that time, through careful growth and thoughtful fiscal management, we have built a law practice with tremendous breadth and a global reach. We are proud of the many accolades we have received over the years—a tribute to our lawyers’ creativity, flexibility, depth of experience, and commitment. The most meaningful accolade to us, though, is the continued trust and confidence of our clients. With nearly 1,000 lawyers and 15 offices in key financial centers across the world (Brussels, Charlotte, Chicago, Dallas, , Houston, London, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Paris, São Paulo, San Francisco, Shanghai, Silicon Valley, and Washington, D.C.), we bring an understanding of the global legal issues our clients face to both transactional and dispute-related matters.

Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2024:
Berkeley Law • Brooklyn Law School • Columbia University Law School • Cornell Law School • DePaul University College of Law • Duke University School of Law • Fordham University School of Law • George Washington University Law School • Georgetown University Law Center • Harvard Law School • Howard University School of Law • Loyola Law School Los Angeles • Loyola University Chicago School of Law • New York University School of Law • Northwestern Pritzker School of Law • Santa Clara University School of Law • Southern Methodist University Dedman School of Law • St. John's University School of Law, San Francisco • Stanford Law School • Texas A&M University School of Law • UC Davis School of Law • UCLA School of Law • UC Law San Francisco • University of Chicago Law School • University of Florida Levin College of Law • University of Houston Law Center • University of Illinois College of Law • University of Miami School of Law • University of Michigan Law School • University of North Carolina School of Law • University of Notre Dame Law School • University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School • University of Southern California Gould School of Law • University of Texas at Austin School of Law • University of Virginia School of Law • Vanderbilt Law School • Washington University School of Law • Yale Law School

Summer associate profile
Winston & Strawn prefers strong academic performance, participation in law review or other law school publications or competitive endeavors and a good balance of academic and interpersonal skills.

Summer program components
At Winston, summer associates work on a wide variety of transactions and litigation matters with outstanding attorneys who are welcoming, kind, and genuinely invested in their professional growth and happiness. Summer associates also participate in a best-in-class series of legal and professional skills-training programs delivered through Winston University. Our work assignment process ensures summer associates gain hands-on experience engaging in meaningful and challenging assignments for world class clients. In addition, summer associates are routinely given opportunities to observe client meetings, negotiations, depositions, and trials. Summer associates at Winston build strong and enduring relationships through our mentoring program and a variety of social activities throughout the summer.

Social Media

LinkedIn: winston-&-strawn-llp
Twitter: @winstonlaw
Facebook: WinstonStrawnLLP
Instagram: winstonstrawnllp

This Firm's Rankings in
USA Guide, 2023

Ranked Departments

    • Intellectual Property: Patent Litigation (Band 5)
    • Labor & Employment: The Elite (Band 4)
    • Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations (Band 3)
    • Private Equity: Buyouts (Band 5)
    • Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation (Band 5)
    • Litigation: General Commercial: Highly Regarded (Band 2)
    • Litigation: General Commercial: Highly Regarded (Band 3)
    • Antitrust (Band 1)
    • Banking & Finance (Band 3)
    • Corporate/M&A & Private Equity (Band 2)
    • Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation (Band 1)
    • Environment (Band 3)
    • Intellectual Property (Band 2)
    • Labor & Employment: The Elite (Band 4)
    • Litigation: General Commercial (Band 2)
    • Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations (Band 2)
    • Real Estate (Band 4)
    • Tax (Band 3)
    • Antitrust (Band 3)
    • Litigation: General Commercial: Highly Regarded (Band 5)
    • Litigation: Securities (Band 4)
    • Media & Entertainment: Litigation (Band 4)
    • Litigation: General Commercial (Band 4)
    • Corporate/M&A: The Elite (Band 5)
    • Intellectual Property (Band 2)
    • Litigation: White-Collar Crime & Government Investigations (Band 1)
    • Real Estate (Band 3)
    • Litigation: General Commercial (Band 2)
    • Antitrust (Band 4)
    • Antitrust: Cartel (Band 2)
    • Capital Markets: Securitization: CLOs (Band 2)
    • Corporate Crime & Investigations: Highly Regarded (Band 1)
    • E-Discovery & Information Governance (Band 2)
    • Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation (Band 4)
    • Energy: Oil & Gas (Transactional) (Band 4)
    • Intellectual Property (Band 4)
    • International Arbitration: Highly Regarded (Band 2)
    • Offshore Energy (Band 2)
    • Private Equity: Fund Formation (Band 4)
    • Product Liability & Mass Torts: Highly Regarded (Band 2)
    • Projects: Power & Renewables: Transactional (Band 3)
    • Projects: PPP (Band 2)
    • Projects: Renewables & Alternative Energy (Band 2)
    • Sports Law (Band 2)
    • Transportation: Shipping/Maritime: Regulatory (Band 1)

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