Mayer Brown LLP

Published April 2011

2011 Vault Ranking: 31


In the early twenty first century, Mayer Brown has undergone a number of changes that transformed it from a national firm and Chicago icon to a prominent international player. The firm maintains an excellent and diverse array of practices, including top tier corporate, finance, and litigation teams. Mayer is most prominent for their stellar appellate practice.

The core of the firm dates back to the summer of 1879, when two attorneys squared off in a Chicago court room over the sale of a horse. The opposing counsel decided, during the appeal, to form a partnership. They paid out of pocket to settle the case for their clients, and the firm Kraus & Mayer was formed. Over the years the names changed, but by 1970 the Chicago institution known as Mayer, Brown & Platt had become a firm with national reach and a number of select international offices.

In 2002, Mayer merged with the British firm Rowe & Maw, adding another 250 attorneys and giving an extensive presence in Europe. The international expansion continued in 2007, when Mayer absorbed the Hong Kong based Johnson, Stokes & Master. JSM at the time was one of the largest and oldest law firms in Asia. The firm was founded in 1863 when Hong Kong had fewer than a dozen practicing attorneys. Under the name Mayer Brown JSM, it has won Hong Kong Law Firm of the Year as recently as 2008.

Mayer Brown has somewhat taken it on the chin during the recent recession. Even before the meltdown in 2008, between 2005 and 2007 the firm de-equitized twenty five percent of the firm’s partners. By 2009, revenue had fallen off 14%, and profits dropped a stunning 20%. The firm responded by laying off 135 attorneys, while a number of partners fled the firm. The firm still retains over one thousand attorneys, but it may continue to be a struggle to return to the upward trajectory the firm was on prior to the economic troubles.

Practice Areas

Mayer Brown has a fairly balanced practice, with a solid mix of both excellent litigation and transactional work. Though the firm does not perform as well in the New York biased national rankings as some of its peer firms in Manhattan, it should not be discounted. With nearly half of its thousand attorneys in the Chicago office, Mayer provides some of the best representation in the Second City.

The firm has an excellent global reputation in banking and finance. The additions of Rowe & Maw and JSM in the last decade have taken was what once a national strength and turned it into an international one. Prominent clients have included Barclays, JPMorgan, Merrill Lynch, Credit Suisse, and ProLogis. The firm has recently been handling a number of cross border transactions, and been active in emerging markets.

Mayer’s litigation team is equally excellent. It is among the top half dozen or so firms in Chicago for general commercial litigation, and among the more well regarded in New York and Washington, D.C. for its litigation work. The firm is most well known for its stellar appellate practice, one of the best in the country. It was the first firm to establish a specialized Supreme Court practice group.

Though ranked 31 overall in the Vault listings, it is only highly ranked in two areas. It holds a top twenty ranking in Real Estate, and the number three overall spot in Appellate Litigation. However for regional rankings, it is number five in Chicago, and ranked in the top twenty in Texas, Washington, D.C., and Southern California.

Chambers and Partners ranks Mayer Brown nationally in Band 1 or 2 for the following practices: Antitrust, Appellate, Banking & Finance, Capital Markets, Franchising, Outsourcing, Projects, Tax, and Transportation. In Illinois, Mayer is dominant, maintaining Band 1 or 2 rankings in the following: Antitrust, Banking & Finance, Communications, Corporate/M&A, Environment, Insurance, Labor & Employment, General Litigation, Government Investigations, Real Estate, and Tax.


Employment at Mayer Brown is fairly straightforward, compared to other biglaw firms. If you go to a good school and have the adequate grades, you have a shot. The firm is not looking for any one particular “type” of candidate, and both the jock and the bookworm can find a home at Mayer Brown. However, it should be noted that the recession has seriously slowed hiring at the firm. In 2010, the firm only interviewed candidates from a grand total of four schools: Harvard, Michigan, Northwestern, and Chicago.

The firm offers a ten or eleven week summer program, depending on the office. An attorney coordinator assigns work based on the expressed practice area preferences of the summer associates. The firm is generally fairly good about giving assignments that are not complete busywork. Summer associates are expected to complete between ten to fifteen assignments over the course of the summer. Summers are generally out of the office by 6:30 PM, and weekend work is rare.

Summer associates are expected to attend weekly training sessions, and are able to attend between three to five attorney lunches each week. There are other social events approximately twice a week, including bowling, scavenger hunts, and baseball games.

The firm is trying to figure out how to incorporate incoming classes into a firm that was struggling to keep costs down. The summer class of 2009 received only 73% offers to its 116 members. The summer class of 2010 was reduced in size to only 44 summer associates. The incoming class of 2010 has been deferred until January of 2012, but has been provided with a stipend during that time.

Compensation and Benefits

Compensation at Mayer Brown can be best described as “semi-lockstep.” It begins with the normal lockstep scale, starting at $160,000 for first year associates. However rather than having identical salary for every attorney, there is a range within each year. Associate salaries are determined based on hours billed and quality of work. The system is not particularly transparent, and some offices and groups are inconsistent as to what is included in making the determinations.

The firm is a follower in terms of bonuses, but generally matches the market leader in terms of amount. Bonuses generally require billing 2,100 hours annually. The firm is inconsistent between offices as to what constitutes the minimum required hours. Most offices have a 2,000 minimum, though Palo Alto and Washington, D.C. both report no stated minimum. In the past there were no real consequences for not meeting the minimum, but in recent years failure to meet the minimum could result in anything from withholding bonuses to termination. Face time similarly varies from partner to partner and office to office, but associates are generally expected to be around when they are needed. With the recent economic struggles, associates are not recommended to press this issue.

The firm allows for four weeks of vacation, but it is rare for anyone to use all of it. Even when on vacation, associates are expected to be checking their BlackBerrys and available for phone calls as necessary. The firm also grants 18 weeks off for primary caregivers for parental leave, including adoptions, as well as six weeks of elder care leave in some offices. Mayer also allows flex-time and part time schedules on a case by case basis.

Other benefits include subsidized cafeterias, backup childcare, and client development expenses. New associates receive relocation benefits including a $3,000 reimbursement, as well as bar exam, bar course, and membership fees.


Mayer Brown has a two-tier partnership track. The first stage requires eight years of experience to be qualified for non-equity status, followed by an additional three to five years before being considered for equity status. This is a new system which replaced single-track partnership, around the time the firm de-equitized a number of partners. Dissatisfaction led to a number of partner defections, beyond those who were pushed out. Opinions are mixed as to how achievable a goal partnership is within the firm. The number of partners promoted decreased significantly in recent years, but it is unclear to what extent that was merely because of the recession. In any case, even those who believe that partnership can be attained still acknowledge it is unlikely.


Generally speaking, the culture at Mayer Brown is considered friendly and social, but not to the extent that associates feel pressured to spend time with their coworkers after hours. Most consider their fellow attorneys to be collegial and easy to get along with, but at the end of the day most people tend to want to just go home to their families.

It should be noted however that, for many, morale is at an all time low. De-equitizing partners, laying off associates, and lack of transparency have all contributed to attorneys of all experience levels starting to look over their shoulders. Associate partner relationships seem strained, as both sides seem to distrust and resent the others at times. It is unclear to what extent this will solve itself as years pass and business picks up again.