White and Case LLP
Published April 2011
2011 Vault Ranking: 20
Though many firms are technically global, with small offices in a number of countries, few can match White & Case in international presence. This elite corporate firm has nearly two thousand attorneys, with more than half of them located outside the United States. While the firm’s largest office is in New York City, it is one of only five domestic offices, compared to thirty-one foreign offices spread about the globe. This expansive reach has allowed the firm to be ranked number one on Vault’s international list, despite ranking no higher than number ten in any of its practice area-specific fields.
The history of White and Case stands as evidence that it is all about who you know. The firm was founded just after the turn of the century by two young attorneys, one of whom had not even attended law school, with less than ten years of combined legal experience. It was through the patronage of JP Morgan financier Henry P. Davidson that the fledgling firm gained access through hundreds of JP Morgan contacts. When the French government in World War I hired JP Morgan to purchase war materials in the United States on their behalf, the youngsters handled the legal work. They wrote contracts with nearly a thousand American companies, eventually earning founder DuPratt White a position in the French Legion of Honor.
George Case served on the Red Cross War Council after the war, and the firm opened a Paris office to serve the growing organization in 1926, long before most firms began establishing foreign offices. After World War II, the firm renewed international expansion with vigor. Although the first foreign partner was not added until 1982, today more than half of the firm’s partners are based outside of the United States.
The firm had been growing by leaps and bounds prior to the economic collapse in 2008. In reaction, the firm had to close two international offices and lost another when the local attorneys decided to defect and form an independent office. In two rounds of layoffs between late 2008 and early 2009, the firm laid off nearly three hundred attorneys and another three hundred staffers.
Although a general practice firm, first and foremost, White and Case is focused on corporate matters. For most of its history, it has been a deal maker working with some of the biggest names in banking and finance, dating back to its founding and the watchful eye of JP Morgan’s Davidson. The firm has significant experience particularly in cross border M&A work, and is very well known in that regard.
Further, the firm is also well regarded for its projects work, particularly in energy fields such as oil and gas, as well as mining and infrastructure work. This is heavily built on their international excellence, as these fields are almost exclusively cross border transactions, often involving one or more state actors. Prominent clients of the firm include Aramco, the Saudi state petroleum company.
Though the firm is not well known for its litigation department, it is still quite capable in that department. It is particularly well versed in antitrust and securities litigation, areas that are of common interest as a result of its corporate transactional work. Lastly, it also has a stand out restructuring group.
In the Vault practice area rankings, the firm stands out in only one area, holding the number one spot for International. The firm rounds this out with top twenty rankings in Bankruptcy, Securities, White Collar Defense, General Corporate Practice, and Antitrust and Securities Litigation.
Nationally, White and Case has Band 1 or 2 rankings by Chambers and Partners in Antitrust, Corporate/M&A, Energy (transactional), International Arbitration, and Projects (Oil & Gas, Power, PPP).
White and Case is extremely selective for a firm of its size. This is in part due to the fact that its main claim to fame, international transactional work, is among the more sought after practice areas among inexperienced law students. Beyond academics, the firm has specific things they are looking for in an applicant. They want to be convinced during an interview that the applicant is willing to work harder and faster than anyone else. If that isn’t a priority, then the firm will have no interest. Further, as befitting an international firm, they are interested in people with diverse, international backgrounds, as well as foreign language skills.
The firm has a ten-week summer program offered in its domestic offices, as well as the London office. Summer associates are assigned work by a coordinator, and they are expected to complete ten assignments thoughout the course of the summer. The firm does a good job of giving summer associates the real firm experience: summers are given substantive work to do, not busy work. However along with this come real firm obligations: summers are often staying well past 7:00 PM on weekdays and work weekends far more than at any other firm. This should come as no surprise to those who were paying attention to the preceding paragraph.
The firm provides multiple training seminars each week, as well as allowing for three attorney lunches each week. Social events include the standard fare such as scavenger hunts, baseball games, and Broadway shows. Each summer all domestic summer associates travel to New York City for a Summer Associate Conference.
Though the firm gave offers to 96% of the summer associates in the summer of 2009 (class of 2010), the entire class was also told they would be deferred until the fall of 2011 at the earliest. This was necessitated because more than half of the class of 2009 had already been deferred until 2010.
Compensation and Benefits
Salaries at White and Case are based, for the most part, on the lockstep system, starting at $160,000 for first year associates. However in some offices this breaks down after a few years, with mid-level and senior associates being paid less outside of New York than the standard New York scale would indicate. The firm is a follower in terms of bonuses, but tends to match the market for those associates who meet the minimum billable hours.
The firm has a 2,000 hour requirement for associates to be eligible for bonuses. This number includes training time and pro bono hours, up to ten percent of the total. There is an informal expectation however of billing closer to 2,100 to 2,400 hours. Further, while pro bono work is encouraged by the firm, many partners often discourage it individually.
The firm has no face time requirement, but like in most large firms this is largely dependent on individual partners. Regardless, associates are expected to always be on call, any time of any day, and should be checking messages regularly. The firm provides three to four weeks of vacation time per year, and is generally respectful of employee vacations (though that phrase is used within the context of what it means to a large law firm).
Other benefits at the firm include either on-site gyms or gym memberships, backup childcare, paid parental leave, and various discounts on mortgage programs and insurance policies. New associates receive a $4000 bar stipend, and a $7500 salary advance.
White and Case has two partnership tracks, ranging between eight to ten years to eligibility. While the firm has no established “up or out” policy, associates who do not make partner either become counsel or leave of their own accord. The firm is encouraging female and minority partners, but the chances of any individual making partner is very low, particularly given the size and scope of the firm.
To call White and Case a work hard, play hard culture is somewhat misleading. It is more of a work very, very hard, play hard firm. The firm has high expectations for its associates from the first day as a summer associate, and it never lets up. However, it does its best to foster camaraderie by encouraging associates and partners to socialize both inside and outside the office.
Though morale has taken a hit in the recent economy due to layoffs and deferrals at the firm, to its credit White and Case has been open about the layoffs and has not tried to engage in human resources legerdemain. The remaining attorneys are anxious, but they are just as busy as any other year, and there is plenty of work to go around.
If your goal is working in international trade and cross border transactional work, White and Case is exactly the place you want to be. However you have to be willing to work for it.
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