O'Melveny & Myers LLP
Published April 2011
2011 Vault Ranking: 24
O’Melveny & Myers is one of the oldest firms on the West Coast. With five offices in California, it is still deeply rooted in the region. It has since spread to a total of fourteen offices around the world with well over one thousand attorneys, and has the largest China practice of any U.S. based law firm, with offices in Shanghai, Beijing, and Hong Kong. It is a full service firm, most highly rated domestically for its litigation practices.
OMM was founded in Los Angeles in 1885, with its earliest work involving land litigation related to the ownership of Spanish haciendas and electric infrastructure in the region. As two World Wars raged past, the firm picked up a number of military contractors in the region as clients. The firm’s biggest claim to fame maybe that of helping bring baseball to California: the firm represented the then Brooklyn Dodgers in successfully appealing a contract dispute before the Supreme Court.
In the latter half of the twentieth century, OMM followed the path of most major firms in the US, engaging in expansive exponential growth. Over that period of time it opened offices in four foreign countries and increased its attorney headcount by a factor of ten. This also allowed expansion of the services provided to cover a wide variety of practice areas.
Like almost every other major firm, recent years have lead to decreased revenue and profit. The firm underwent significant layoffs in both 2008 and 2009, resulting in an overall 8% decrease in numbers. An additional victim has been transparency in how associate bonuses are handled.
Though it did not appear to be by design, OMM has developed a strong reputation for their litigation practice. More than half of the firm’s attorneys are in the litigation group, and the firm has experience at every level of trial and appellate work. The firm has a very active Supreme Court practice, led by the chair of the appellate practice in Washington D.C., Walter E. Dellinger III. Dellinger successfully argued for a reduction in punitive damages against client Exxon in relation to the Valdez oil spill, and argued on behalf of the District of Columbia in District of Columbia v. Heller.
The firm’s transactional work is not as well known on a national scale, but its New York office is highly rated in the region for its corporate and M&A work. The firm is more than capable of handling all manner of private equity deals, acquisitions, debt restructuring and the like. OMM also has an outstanding international practice, one of the most expansive in Asia of any American firm. It has a wealth of clients in China, Japan, and the region, involving a wide variety of cross border transactions and disputes.
The firm is ranked highly in the Vault practice area rankings in a number of categories, with top ten rankings in Class Actions, Labor & Employment, and Labor & Employment Disputes. It holds top twenty rankings in Products Liability, Antitrust and Antitrust Litigation, Appellate Litigation, White Collar Defense, Private Equity, General Commercial Litigation, Securities Litigation, and IP Litigation.
OMM’s is nationally ranked by Chambers and Partners in Band 1 or 2 for Antitrust, Appellate, ERISA Litigation, and Insurance Dispute Resolution. It has Band 1 or 2 rankings in California for Antitrust, Bankruptcy, Employee Benefits, General Commercial Litigation, White Collar Defense, Media & Entertainment (both litigation and transactional), and Tax. In New York, the firm has a Band 2 ranking for Corporate/M&A and General Commercial Litigation.
Like with most firms, getting hired at OMM is not just about grades. It is true that the first step is finding a candidate that performed well in law school, but the firm also wants to see that there is a strong work ethic and a personality to match. An ideal candidate is one that was able to achieve personal successes while still performing in leadership roles, in addition to having accomplished personal skills. In the end, when deciding between qualified candidates, personality is often a big factor.
The firm runs a ten-week summer program in both its domestic and Asia offices. However as a word of caution: the firm encourages law students to apply to its Asia summer programs, but it generally does not hire first year associates there. Summer associates are assigned work by an attorney coordinator. They are expected to complete around ten assignments over the summer, covering a variety of practice areas. There are conflicting reports as to how strenuous daily life is as a summer associate at OMM, as some claim to bill as many as eight to ten hours a day, while others say summer associates are generally out of the office by 6 P.M. It is likely this varies by office, but most report that summers regularly work weekends from home.
The firm provides for unlimited attorney lunches with a budget ranging from $40 to $60 per person depending on the office. The program also includes multiple social events each week, including such things as baseball games and parties or concerts.
The summer class of 2009 received 82% offers, which while significantly lower than average, was still fairly good compared to many peer firms. The 2010 summer class was cut to half the size of the year before, but received 100% offers. Incoming associates in 2009 were delayed, but only by a few months, compared to the year or more that associates at some peer firms faced.
Compensation and Benefits
O’Melveny & Myers follows the standard lockstep system for salaries, beginning at $160,000 for first year associates. Despite the down economy, the firm has had no salary freezes. The firm has historically been a follower in terms of bonus amounts, either at or below whatever the market rate has been. In 2008, the firm matched the top of the market for bonuses for any associate who billed 1,950 hours.
However 2009’s economic downturn greatly impacted how bonuses were handled. While salaries were not frozen, the firm went to a “discretionary” system for bonuses. There is no set billable hour requirement at the firm, but in the past anyone who billed 1,950 hours would receive a bonus. Under the new system, there is no express hourly minimum. Associates are unsure what is actually required to qualify for a bonus. Given recent layoffs, skirting the minimum may have larger ramifications than merely no bonus.
There is no official face time requirement, but associates should be warned that this varies by partner and by office. Vacation time also varies by office, ranging from three to four weeks, but most associates don’t even use the majority of their allotted time. Other benefits include an in-house cafeteria at some of the larger offices, free soda machines, subsidized gym memberships, and backup child and elder care. New associates receive a $10,000 bar stipend and assorted moving benefits.
Most associates have a relatively grim opinion of partnership prospects at the firm. The firm maintains separate equity and non-equity partnership tracks, ranging from eight to ten years to eligibility. Associates passed over on the first attempt are usually considered the following year. However the best thing associates could say is that it was a long shot no matter how hard you worked, while a significant minority felt it was essentially impossible. Very few associates are promoted any given year despite the significant size of the firm.
Overall OMM fosters a relatively healthy work environment, in terms of large firm expectations. Junior and midlevel associates are generally satisfied with their work, and are given a high degree of autonomy to work on complex matters. This does change somewhat as higher seniority is reached, where senior associates begin to feel somewhat isolated, both from the juniors below them, and from the partners above.
In general the firm is made up of smart and friendly people. While the firm isn’t homogeneous, there is a high amount of socializing, especially among junior and midlevel associates. There has been some added tension recently due to an increasingly competitive workplace because of economic trouble. The changes in the bonus structure as well as recent layoffs have had some effect on morale, but for the most part associates are weathering the storm.
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