Milbank Tweed Hadley & McCloy LLP
Published April 2011
2011 Vault Ranking: 32
Milbank, Tweed, Hadly & McCloy is among the leading Wall Street firms in the areas of corporate restructuring and project finance. The projects group has been heavily involved in deals promoting alternative energy sources, and is a leader in the field. The firm is perhaps most well known for a very well regarded litigation group, led by an all star bankruptcy team.
Milbank began its history as a small firm in New York City in 1866. By the turn of the century, it was already a leader in the finance industry, and represented such clients as the Rockefeller, Vanderbilt, and Mellon families. After the first World War, the firm already had an overseas influence, advising both US and foreign clients on overseas corporate activities. With the Great Depression came a focus on bankruptcies, reorganizations, and securities matters.
The firm’s growth and rise to prominence has tracked the financial services industries in many ways, constantly at the forefront. The firm had its highest revenue year ever in 2007, at the height of the economic boom. When the economy was in shambles in 2009, Milbank remained in a position of prominence, handling a number of high profile bankruptcy cases; 2009 was the firm’s second highest revenue year ever. However the firm has also been in the news for revealing the seedier side of the financial services industry. The firm was intricately involved in the Enron affair, serving as counsel to multiple parties, and eventually as a defendant itself.
Recent years have held mixed news for the firm. After peaking in revenue in 2007, the firm had its first drop in revenue in 2008. The early months of 2009 were equally bad, and the firm responded by slashing close to ten percent of the attorney workforce, 49 associates, and laying off 40 staff. Business eventually picked up. While revenues were only down three percent from the firm’s peak year, profits had actually increased five percent because of the reduced expenses in headcount.
This venerable firm has a number of very well regarded practice areas, spanning the range of general corporate transactional work, to more specific areas such as project finance, and including an excellent range of litigation practices. The firm has been full service almost since its inception, and the very diverse practice areas have meant that no matter what has been happening in the economy, Milbank has been in a position to capitalize on it.
The firm’s restructuring group handles some of the highest profile bankruptcies in the world. Milbank has represented major stakeholders in such proceedings as Lehman Brothers and Global Crossing. Less proudly, the firm was heavily involved in the Enron fiasco. This department is ranked among the best in the country.
The firm has an excellent corporate department which is among the best in New York for general banking and finance, and among the best in the country for project finance. The firm is particularly involved in project finance for various energy industries, both traditional and alternative. It has had important roles in the sale of Bluewater Wind, a major developer of offshore wind farms, and the financing of Midwestern ethanol plants.
Ranked number 32 overall by Vault, the firm has a number of top ranked practices. Most prominently, they have the number five spot in the bankruptcy rankings, and are number nine for Clean Tech/Renewable Energy projects. The firm’s litigation team makes another appearance with a top twenty ranking for Class Actions.
Chambers and Partners ranks Milbank nationally in Band 1 or 2 for the following practices: Bankruptcy/Restructuring, Projects (Mining, Oil & Gas, Power, Alternative Energy), Transportation, and Wealth Management. The New York main office also results in a number of excellent New York regional rankings, earning Band 1 or 2 recognition in the following: Banking & Finance, Bankruptcy/Restructuring, Corporate/M&A, Latin American Investment, Securities Litigation, and Technology & Outsourcing.
The interview process at Milbank varies by office, but tends to follow the standard hiring procedures for large firms. The firm is looking for both great grades, but also someone with an interesting background that reaches beyond books. Ideally the firm will find people who are 100 percent committed to work without outside distraction. However with the recent recession, the firm has reduced the number of second tier schools it is interviewing at, focusing instead on the top twenty five or so.
The firm runs a ten-week summer program in all three of its domestic offices (New York, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C.). Summer associates rotate through as many as three practice groups over the course of the summer. Each department manages their own assignments, with a coordinator in the department overseeing the process. Summer associates are expected to complete fifteen or more assignments. Despite the relatively high number compared to peer firms, most summer associates are out of the office by 6:00 PM and weekend work is uncommon, suggesting that the assignments may be smaller or less substantive than at some other firms.
The firm encourages summer associates to take part in weekly training sessions, as well as provides for an unlimited number of attorney lunches with a $50 budget. The firm holds social events throughout the week, including things ranging from wine and cheese tastings to baseball games.
At the height of the recession, the firm made offers to 81% of the summer associates in 2009. Incoming class of 2009 associates were only deferred until January of 2010, but were given a $10,000 stipend for their trouble. The firm cancelled its 2010 summer program. The 2011 summer program was reimplemented, but with a 75% reduction in class size.
Compensation and Benefits
Compensation at Milbank is based on the standard big firm lockstep system. First year associates are paid $160,000. Though the firm has had layoffs, it has not had to cut salaries, nor has it implemented any salary freezes. The firm is a follower in terms of bonus amounts, but generally follows the market leaders. Bonuses are also lockstep, and not tied to a billable hour requirement.
Milbank has no minimum billable hour requirement, and there is no minimum eligibility requirement for bonuses, but a total in the range of 2,400 hours is expected. There is no formal policy addressing the consequences of not reaching this target, but there may be repercussions if an associate is perceived to be lagging behind the rest of their practice group. There is also no formal face time policy, but associates are expected to be in the office during normal working hours. Partners have been known to check to see when associates are or are not in. Given that the firm has shown willingness to lay off associates when there has been even a slight dip in firm revenue, associates are recommended to not push either the billable hour or face time non-policies.
The firm provides four weeks of vacation per year, and associates generally feel comfortable using the majority of their time, as long as it is not cutting significantly into their total billable hours. Other benefits include subsidized cafeterias, technology subsidy, and many esoteric options such as pet insurance. Incoming associates receive a $10,000 salary advance, laptop, and are eligible for a prorated bonus at the end of their stub year.
Milbank has a single partnership track that varies wildly in length. Associates will be considered anywhere between their eighth and twelfth year of practice. The firm makes a relatively small number of partners each year. In 2009, only 5 new partners were promoted, compared to four new partners acquired as laterals. Opinions differ on how plausible partnership is as a legitimate goal, but even the most optimistic admit that it is difficult simply due to the numbers.
Milbank has no strong overarching culture. The white shoe firm is only ever described by associates in the most generic and meaningless terms. Common descriptors include “professional” and “down to earth.” Much like a generic online dating profile, nothing makes the firm stand out in this area. Instead, it seems that most descriptions tend to focus more on individual small practice groups.
In most people’s minds, Milbank acts more like a number of very small firms that don’t overlap, but just happen to share a name. Where the corporate group has been described as fratty, the litigators have a reputation for being buttoned up suits. Meanwhile, the projects team has been described as “nerd recess,” where partners are known to challenge each other to games on the group’s in-office ping pong table.
Ultimately if you plan to join Milbank, it will be important to investigate your option carefully based on the group you ultimately plan to pursue. While the firm has a number of very strong practice groups, they do not tend to overlap much either professionally or socially.
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