Paul Weiss Rifkind Wharton & Garrison LLP
Published April 2011, last updated June 2011
2011 Vault Ranking: 12
Paul Weiss is best known in New York for its reputation made in the courtroom. Though the firm has prolific and accomplished corporate and restructuring departments, its litigation group is the most well regarded of its practice groups, and among the best in the country. Though the firm has seven offices in five countries and spans three continents, the firm is essentially a New York firm only. There are nearly 650 attorneys in the New York office, with the next largest office, Washington D.C., having only 44. The smallest office has merely three attorneys.
Paul Weiss traces its history back to 1875, and has always pursued fairly progressive goals for a New York firm. The firm has always distinguished itself as a leader in terms of diversity. It was one of the first to have Jews and Gentiles working together, the first New York firm to hire a black associate, and the first major New York firm to make a woman partner. Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” was inspired by one of the most heated cases of the 1930s, that of four black men from Alabama wrongly convicted of raping a white woman. The real world parallel for Atticus Finch was a group of Paul Weiss attorneys. More recently, firm attorneys have been involved in Guantanamo detainee cases.
The firm has historically had involvement on the left of the political spectrum. One-time Paul Weiss attorneys have included Democratic politicians such as Adlai Stevenson, judges appointed by Democratic presidents (Justice Arthur Goldberg), and numerous attorneys who served roles in Democratic administrations. In 1960 the firm’s Chicago office had to be closed when Adlai Stevenson and every single partner in that office left to join the Kennedy administration. However this does not extend to the firm’s clients, though Paul Weiss has represented Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, it has also represented Spiro Agnew and Lewis “Scooter” Libby in their respective investigations.
The firm has not only weathered the economic downturn, but thrived. 2009 was the most profitable in firm history. Though gross revenue decreased by four percent, profits per partner increased by 1.5 percent. Though the firm has claimed no associate layoffs, in that period the firm did release approximately forty-five staff attorneys, and some associates have reported that they were “encouraged to resign.” This is further bolstered by the fact that one of the firm’s largest clients is CitiGroup. In addition to downturn related litigation on behalf of Citigroup, the firm also represents Bear Stearns.
Paul Weiss is one of the top litigation and dispute resolution firms in the world. Its litigation department covers all manner of dispute resolution and has an excellent reputation across numerous practice areas. Whether you are looking at antitrust, securities, white collar defense, or general commercial work, the firm is consistently ranked near the top. This is true regardless of whether we are discussing trial work, class actions, appellate work, or any variation.
The firm has and continues to represent a number of significant financial institutions. The firm’s single largest client is CitiGroup, but Paul Weiss also represents the likes of Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch, Mogan Stanley, AIG, and Time Warner.
The firm’s corporate practice is not nearly as well regarded, though still adequate to a full service firm of its caliber. Paul Weiss also has a very strong intellectual property practice that focuses on trademark, copyright, and media. The firm maintains a stable of clients including Calvin Klein, Polo Ralph Lauren, and HBO, along with numerous songwriters and publishers.
Paul Weiss is ranked by Vault in the top five for White Collar Defense, Internal Investigations, Class Actions, Securities Litigation, and General Commercial Litigation. It holds top twenty rankings for Labor and Employment, Bankruptcy, M&A, Antitrust Litigation, and is top twenty for Antitrust, General Commercial Litigation, Private Equity, Securities and Antitrust Litigation.
Nationally, Paul Weiss has Band 1 or 2 rankings by Chambers and Partners in Bankrupcty/Restructuring and Securities Litigation. More importantly, the firm is ranked in Band 1 or 2 in New York in General Commercial Litigation, Media & Entertainment (Corporate and Litigation), Securities Litigation, White Collar Crime, Real Estate Finance, and Tax.
Paul Weiss has always been fairly selective, and has only become more so in the recent economic climate. Top grades at a top school are a minimum requirement, or being the absolute top of the class at a lesser school. Clerkships or other academic indicators are highly regarded, which comes as no surprise for a litigation-focused firm.
The firm has a fairly lengthy fourteen-week summer program. Though an attorney coordinator assigns work, summer associates can take assignments from any department of their choice. Summer associates are expected to complete ten to fifteen assignments, though the substantive nature of the work is hit or miss. Many assignments exist just as an excuse to have summers participate in deals or go to court to see what is happening. Summer associates are expected to be in the office until 7:00 PM or so, and weekend work is uncommon, but not unheard of.
The firm offers unlimited attorney lunches, budgeted at $65 per person. The firm hosts two social events a week, which include the standard fare of New York big firm events: Shakespeare in the Park, cocktail parties at the Museum of Modern Art, and the like.
Though there have been reports of associates being pressured to leave (without actually being “laid off”), it is notable that 103 of 107 summer associates in 2009 received offers. Both the class of 2009 and class of 2010 began on time in September of their respective years.
Compensation and Benefits
Salary at Paul Weiss is based on the standard lockstep system in New York, beginning at $160,000. Bonuses are not tied to billable hours. The firm is generally a follower in terms of bonus amounts, but has consistently matched the market leaders, including the 2011 spring bonuses. Throughout the downturn, the firm has not frozen salaries.
The firm has no billable hour requirement, but the general expectation is 2,000 hours. The firm has no true face time requirements as long as the work is getting done. The firm offers alterative scheduling to all associates, not just those with family obligations. Although, it should be noted that alternative scheduling does not necessarily mean reduced scheduling. Associates receive four weeks of paid vacation, which most associates use, but in return work on weekends is very common.
Other benefits include a subsidized cafeteria, weekly happy hours and subsidized gym memberships. Full time childcare is provided the first three months after a parent’s return from leave, and off-site emergency childcare is also provided. Free tickets to sporting events and museums are common. New associates receive a salary advance and relocations benefits.
Paul Weiss has one partnership track that ranges between seven to ten years. Associates who are passed over are in theory reconsidered the following year, but generally will not get in on a second try. Nearly all associates believe that making partner is a long shot no matter how hard you work. Oddly enough, this is actually a better situation than at some of the higher ranked New York firms where significant portions of the associates don’t believe partnership is possible at all. By that metric, “a long shot” could be seen as an improvement.
In 1963, name partner Simon Rifkind stated that the firm’s objectives went beyond merely the practice of law, but also “in all things to govern ourselves as members of a free democratic society with responsibilities both to our profession and our country.” The firm has always had fairly progressive ideals. Vault ranks it #3 in Best Law Firms for Diversity, #3 in Diversity for Minorities, and #3 in Diversity for Women. Overall, it has been given a #9 ranking in Best Law Firms to Work For.
All reports suggest that the firm has a mellow, laid-back atmosphere. Though obviously these descriptors are tempered by the fact that they are used in the context of an elite law firm, most consider the firm more of a family and profession than merely a business. The fact that the firm holds office-wide cocktail parties every Friday at 5:30 in their office should be the first clue. The parties are well attended, and encourage socializing among the attorneys. The firm features open door policies and no face time requirements.
That all being said, one must remember that the firm expects 2,000 hours billed each year. It is still grueling work for excellent pay, but at least it is in a collegial atmosphere. Paul Weiss is an excellent choice for anyone who wants to be an elite big firm litigator in New York City.
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