A New York-based firm with international reach, Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen & Hamilton organizes and operates its 12 offices and 1,100 attorneys as a single, integrated global partnership. The firm's core practice groups include M&A, finance, and tax, as well as a highly regarded international practice, particularly in Latin America. The firm employs lawyers from more than 50 countries, and perhaps because of this diversity, associates say the firm has a pleasantly eccentric environment, filled with very "smart," "quirky," "non-arrogant" people. Cleary remained in good financial health during the economic downturn, due in large part to its aptitude for capitalizing on the financial crisis. Most notably, the firm advised the SEC and the Federal Reserve Bank of New York during the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008, and it is currently representing some of the world’s leading financial institutions in investigations and litigation arising out of the Bernard Madoff scandal. Additionally, the firm’s broad global diversification has helped to mitigate the effects from the massive economic slowdown in the United States. In 2011, the firm’s gross revenue increased 7%.
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The firm employs a set lockstep system for U.S. associate salaries and bonuses. Most Lateral Link Members hope the system remains in place, as it eliminates “associate vs. associate competition” and makes the workplace environment “more bearable.” To date, the firm has not cut or frozen associate salaries. The firm is considered a follower regarding bonuses: in 2009 and 2010, Cleary matched the market and awarded Cravath-level bonuses; and although the firm initially matched the Sullivan & Cromwell spring bonus scale in January 2011, a month later Cleary raised its spring bonuses to match the top-of-the-market Cravath spring bonus scale. In December 2011, the firm matched the top-of-the-market Sullivan & Cromwell bonus scale, and paid a stub year bonus.
The firm has no formal departmental structure, and it encourages new associates to experience working in different areas of law to help broaden their experience and develop sound legal skills. Staffing practices have evolved into a “hybrid free-market/assigning partner system” in which associates are free to actively seek work in any practice area and with any attorney, or they can utilize a partner-level assignment coordinator, who will match associates with work. While some Lateral Link Members praise the flexibility and the range of work that the firm’s hybrid staffing system offers, one associate notes that it can be problematic when “partners with whom I have a relationship give me work that conflicts with assignments the assigning partners want me to take on.” Lateral Link Members generally agree that the firm offers sufficient formal training and professional development opportunities. However, Members say that the firm’s mentoring program can be hit-or-miss. While some Lateral Link Members find their mentors to be helpful and available, others say their mentors are unavailable and they do not find their mentors to be a useful resource. The firm has consistently received honors for its commitment to diversity. In 2010, Cleary was ranked fifth by Vault in Overall Diversity, and jumped 14 spots to a sixth place ranking in the Minority Law Journal’s Diversity Scorecard. In 2009, the firm ranked in the top three of The American Lawyer’s “Women in Law Firms 2009 Study,” and was named by Yale Law Women as one of the “Top Ten Family-Friendly Firms.” However, the firm has not promoted any female associates to partner in the past two years. To date, the firm has not conducted any attorney layoffs, at least publicly. However, one Lateral Link Member reports that the firm has been “stealthy about layoffs” of senior associates in their seventh year and above. Nevertheless, most Members agree that current morale at the firm is “high” and believe that the firm is well managed. Cleary’s midlevel associates are particularly satisfied with the firm, which ranked among the top ten AmLaw 100 and Global 100 firms by The American Lawyer’s 2010 Midlevel Associates Survey. The firm also received a top 20 ranking in Vault's 2011 and 2012 Best Law Firms to Work For lists in terms of quality of life, while maintaining a top ten ranking in Vault's 2012 Law 100 rankings for prestige.
While there is no official minimum billable-hours requirement, a few Lateral Link Members say that the expectation is that associates will bill at least 2,000 hours. However, in practice, many associates bill far more than 2,000 hours, with more than one Lateral Link Member noting the “long hours” as one of the worst parts about working at the firm.
According to Lateral Link Members, associates are expected to be in the office during normal working hours. Most Members report working at least a portion of the weekend, but most do so from home, and working on holidays is not as common. The firm recently introduced a telecommuting program that gives first-year associates the option to work from home one weekday per month, increasing to two weekdays per month in subsequent years. The firm offers four weeks of vacation for the first four years and five weeks thereafter, with a maximum rollover of five days. Lateral Link Members report that associates generally take most of their vacation time but are generally expected to check email while on vacation. Although it is uncommon, Lateral Link Members report that it is not unheard of for associates to cancel a vacation for work. The firm leads the market in paid maternity leave, providing 18 weeks of paid time off to new mothers. Paid paternity leave is five weeks for new fathers who are the secondary caregiver, and 10 weeks for the primary caregiver. Additionally, primary caregivers can take six months of unpaid leave without any required committee approval. Lateral Link Members report that it is typical for both men and women to take parental leave and that the firm encourages it.
Lateral Link Members say that Cleary strong encourages associates to do pro bono work. The firm is a charter signatory to the Pro Bono Institute's Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge, which pledges 3% of billables as pro bono work. The firm does not require associates to bill a minimum number of pro bono hours, and there is no limit to the number of pro bono hours that receive billable credit. Average pro bono hours in New York are 97 hours per associate annually, with 73% of associates doing pro bono work. The firm’s full-time pro bono coordinator works directly with the firm's pro bono committee to match attorneys with potential pro bono matters in areas of law that interest them and encourages attorneys to pursue their own interests in pro bono matters.
The firm has one partnership track, averaging eight years to eligibility. After six years with firm, associates begin to receive feedback from the Director of Professional Development about whether they are on track to make partner. The firm does not have an up-and-out policy for senior associates passed over for partner; each associate is dealt with on a case-by-case basis. Lateral Link Members are divided on the prospects of making partner, with some saying it is an achievable goal if one works for it, while others believe that it is unlikely. Lateral Link Members think that hard work, politics, race, and client interaction skills may be factored into partnership decisions. Unlike many of its peers, Cleary did not lay off any partners in 2009. In 2011, four out of the seven new partners were women.
In addition to bar expenses, new associates in New York can expect Cleary to pay for a broker fee required to find housing, as well as travel and lodging in Albany or New York City for the bar exam. The firm provides associates with a subsidized cafeteria, weekly happy hours, free gym membership, free dinners and car service if working late at night, their own office in the first year, and flexible/reduced work schedules.
Cleary holds a 12-week summer program in its New York and Washington, D.C. offices, and also allows summer associates to rotate in one of its 10 overseas offices. In 2009, 43 of its 105 summer associates took advantage of the overseas rotation. An attorney summer coordinator assigns work to summer associates, who are expected to complete between 11 and 15 assignments over the course of the summer. In addition to the high caliber work assignments, survey respondents praise the firm for its commitment to pro bono work, which summer associates are invited to participate in. The firm provides weekly training sessions for summer associates, but several survey respondents think some of the formal training programs are wasteful if you are not interested in the practice area being covered. Don’t expect any handholding, cautions survey respondents, as “people don't care about appearances and don't like to baby sit.” However, several respondents praise the “relaxed” work environment and the opportunity “to work with people who are the best in their profession.” Summer associates are given BlackBerrys, which come in handy, because although “no one is tracking arrival and departure times,” survey respondents in the summer program report having to work "long hours" and some weekends. Several survey respondents report leaving the office most nights between 7:00 p.m. and 9:00 p.m. Still, since “the work is incredibly interesting and varied,” it is a tradeoff most survey respondents don’t mind. Summer associates can attend an unlimited number of attorney lunches budgeted at $55 per person, although most survey respondents say they average about two per week due to work assignments and deadlines. At least once a week, the firm puts on an outside social event, ranging from theater nights to hiking trips to scotch tastings to yacht trips. Besides the opportunity to work in one of the firm’s international offices, one of the highlights of the summer includes a party at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel. The firm also had one of the highest offer rates in 2009, with 99% of its 119 summer associates receiving offers. In 2010, the made 100% offers to its 84-member summer class; and in 2011, Cleary increased its summer class size to 110 summer associates. Cleary is one of the few law firms that has not deferred start dates for any incoming associate classes.