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WilmerHale (Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP)

Published February 2011

2011 Vault Ranking: 17


Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr (more commonly known as WilmerHale) was created by the 2004 merger of Boston-based firm Hale and Dorr and Washington D.C. based Wilmer Cutler & Pickering. Hale and Dorr was founded in Boston in 1918, and had a long standing relationship with Harvard Law School, home of the WilmerHale Legal Services Center. Wilmer Cutler & Pickering was founded in 1962 by former Cravath attorneys. After the merger, WilmerHale features nearly a thousand attorneys in twelve offices worldwide.

WilmerHale, or its component firms, have participated in high profile litigation throughout their existence. In the 1980s, Hale and Dorr represented Beatrice Foods, one of the defendants along with W.R. Grace in the case that was memorialized in the book A Civil Action. Wilmer Cutler & Pickering meanwhile represented Swiss banks accused of profiting from the Holocaust, as well as a number of German companies accused of exploiting forced labor during the Nazi era. Wilmer also was instrumental in investigating Enron and WorldCom, as well as engaging in significant pro bono work, including arguing capital punishment for minors is unconstitutional, defending the constitutionality of the McCain-Feingold

Bill, and representing the University of Michigan to defend its affirmative action policy before the Supreme Court.

Today the firm is known for its litigation expertise as well as its regulatory practice and government connections, with more than a hundred attorneys who have held high-level government positions. Focusing in areas not heavily hit by the recession, WilmerHale’s gross revenue dropped only 1.5% in 2009, and the firm reported its highest ever profit per partner that year, $1.16 million.

Practice Areas

Though WilmerHale is in theory a full service firm, it has a handful of clear strengths, mainly in Intellectual Property, Litigation, Securities, and Regulatory/Government Affairs. In 2009, the firm filed more than 1,550 patent applications and 1,400 trademark applications on behalf of clients such as Honda, Pfizer, and Deutsche Bank. The firm had involvement with notable Supreme Court case Bilski v. Kappos.

In litigation, the firm is named as one of the top 10 global dispute practices by The Lawyer. The firm has practiced in unprecedented oral arguments at The Hague, representing the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement. Attorneys from the firm have argued numerous cases before the Supreme Court and various appellate courts. The IP ligitators had, as of early 2010, eleven consecutive wins before the US International Trade Commission and the Federal Circuit. WilmerHale is also widely known for its pro bono representation, being named one of the top 10 pro bono firms in the AmLaw 100.

The firm is rounded out with its significant regulatory and securities practice groups. It has represented various banks in U.S. agency and congressional hearings, as well as representing media companies before the FCC. It has significant antitrust practice before the FTC, as well as large amounts of securities work, both in litigation and transactional areas.

Nationally, WilmerHale holds Band 1 or 2 rankings from Chambers and Partners in Antitrust, Appellate Law, various Financial Services Regulation, Intellectual Property, International Trade, and Life Sciences. Regionally, the firm has Band 1 or 2 rankings in Antitrust, Bankruptcy/Restructuring, Private Equity, Litigation, and Telecom in Washington D.C., and Antitrust, Bankruptcy/Restructuring, Corporate/M&A, Employee Benefits, Environmental, IP, General Litigation, Private Equity, Real Estate, and Tax in Massachusetts.

Summer Program

WilmerHale has a fairly traditional ten-week summer program in its Boston, Washington D.C., New York, Los Angeles, and Palo Alto offices. Summer Associates have flexibility to choose assignments from multiple practice areas that align with their interests, and are expected to complete an average of ten assignments over the summer. Participants are assigned both a partner and associate mentor, though reports suggest that feedback from attorneys is not as readily forthcoming as they would like. Summers typically leave the office by 6:30 P.M., and weekend work is uncommon.

Summer associates may attend an unlimited number of attorney lunches, as well as weekly social events. While the events are well received, some suggest it can be difficult to balance work, social events, and outside life at the firm. In 2009, the firm made offers to 92% of the summer associates, and in 2010 cut the size of its summer class from 104 to 66.

Compensation and Benefits

Historically, WilmerHale has paid the market rate of $160,000 to first year associates, and its bonuses had tracked the Cravath model. However in December 2009, the firm announced that it would be phasing in a merit-based compensation structure through 2012. Under the new system, a larger percentage of each attorney’s total compensation would be in the form of bonuses, determined based on criteria such as firm performance, quality of work, quality of client service, efficiency, productivity, collegiality, and other factors. It is unclear how many of these theoretically objective standards (and some clearly subjective ones) can be measured with any sort of consistency.

Until the new system is entirely in place, associates are required to bill a minimum of 2,000 hours, including pro bono work, to receive base level bonuses. There are also heightened bonuses at 2,200 and 2,400 hours, however they are not significant increases.


There is a single partnership track at the firm, and it requires a minimum of eight and a half years – one whole year longer than the standard seven found at many peer firms. The firm has been promoting fewer partners in recent years, declining from 22 in 2007 to 10 in 2008 and 9 in 2009. Lateral associates are at no disadvantage compared to homegrown ones for partnership.


In some respects, WilmerHale seems to be a firm still trying to find its identity. Vault surveys and other measures of employee satisfaction and opinion seem to vary wildly, often giving diametrically opposed opinions. For example, on the issue of whether face time is important, Lateral Link reports that face time is very important, and associates are expected to be in the office during normal hours. If you need to work from home for a day, it needs to be discussed with the partners you work with. Meanwhile the Vault survey includes the nugget: “Plus, no face-time culture. Most attorneys leave and will work at home if they have work.” Vault respondents acknowledge there is a distinct difference in the culture between the Boston, D.C., and New York offices in particular. Any prospective associate would do well to research the specific office and practice group for which they are applying.

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