Overview

Introduction

Known especially for its cross-border work, including representation of national governments, Cleary is among the most prestigious firms around. Intellectual curiosity and an amiable personality will go far in fitting in with the firm’s unique “Cleary Culture.” Cleary is a leading global law firm, with offices on four continents and an unparalleled reputation for groundbreaking work. While long known as a dominant player in the international and corporate business world, Cleary has built out both corporate and litigati...

Firm Stats


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Total No. Attorneys (2021)


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No. of Partners Named (2021)


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Featured Rankings

Vault Law 100...


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No. of 1st Year Associates Hired (2020)



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No. of Summer Associates (2021)



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Base Salary

All Offices...

Vault Verdict

Good grades plus curiosity are the secrets to success in landing a position at Cleary. Interview questions often focus on substantive work experience, among other things. Lawyers at the firm are proud of the “Cleary Culture”—the firm has a social atmosphere that extends from the top to the staff. Mentorship is highly valued at the firm, and partners make themselves available to answer questions and check in on associates. This support helps with the high level of work available to associates even as juniors. The firm has grown more transparent in terms of performance and promotion, but associates still feel in the dark on firm decision-making and performance. Hours have piled up during the pandemic, especially in the Corporate group. Some associates feel work is not evenly distrib...

About the Firm

 

Cleary is a leading global law firm, with offices on four continents and an unparalleled reputation for groundbreaking work. While long known as a dominant player in the international and corporate business world, Cleary has built out both corporate and litigation capabilities that have strengthened and expanded the full suite of resources it offers clients.

Globetrotting Trendsetter

Founded in 1946 by four former partners of the Wall Street law firm Root Clark and three attorneys steeped in government service (including Henry Friendly, who is widely known as a preeminent federal judge from his time on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit), Cleary Gottlieb simultaneously opened offices in New York and Washington, DC—still the firm’s only two domesti...

Associate Reviews


  • “In non-COVID times, Cleary is very social, with regular opportunities to engage with colleagues in both professional environments, such as CLEs and practice group office hours, and less formal environments, such as happy hours. During COVID, different practice groups have experimented with different ways of preserving this social and collegial environment.”
  • “Very social firm. Lots of love for the staff from assistants to mailroom. Big component of the culture is Friday night wine & cheese, which most people stop by for a few minutes (or a few hours) to catch up with coworkers. In terms of management culture, they are listening and open to change. Past year has seen more transparency into promotions process and hours.”
  • “A bit hard to say considering how I am remote (and have only ever been remote outside of my summer experience), but Cleary has done a great job integrating new attorneys. I know my team members well and feel comfortable speaking with them. Cleary has also done a good job of creating virtual events, be them virtual murder mystery nights, trivia nights, first-year meet and greet sessions, etc.”
  • “I socialized with associates from my summer class a lot—I'd say they are some of my closest friends in the city. Day to day, when we were summers in the office, we would often make plans for lunch and/or coffee with more senior associates, who I also still interact with. Cleary generally does not have a stuffy vibe (it's pretty laid back for a white shoe firm) but it's also not a huge party culture (apart from weekly Friday wine and cheese, which I can't wait to get back to the office for).”
  • “Partners try to invest in associates personally and developmentally. Great culture for partner mentors; check-ins are frequent and organic. Firm messaging on finances could be more transparent. Recently rolled out sample reports for promotions and more benchmarks on performance, so great strides in transparency lately.”
  • “Partners treat associates well and with respect. Formal performance reviews are done every year, and the partners and legal personnel spend a significant amount of time on them and they are taken very seriously as a way to promote development.”
  • “The partners are seriously vested in our professional development. They go out of their way to teach us substantive points and help us start functioning as more senior lawyers. They're also just good people—I had to take a sudden leave due to personal circumstances and every partner in my group immediately reached out to offer their support and was great about covering my work while I needed some down time.  The review process is direct and transparent.”
  • “Partners are generally approachable and will take time to speak with associates. The firm has instituted a development program where each associate is paired with two partners and can have one on one discussions every couple of weeks to discuss any topic that the associate chooses.”
  • “The hours are simply too high these days, but that seems to be a problem industry wide in corporate right now. I think this is probably the best place I could be in BigLaw, but it is still BigLaw hours and expectations.”
  • “The firm generally encourages flexibility in where and when we work and was supportive of working from home every so often even prior to the pandemic. Our work hours and amount of work aren't out of the ordinary for BigLaw, but there is a constant expectation of availability that can feel burdensome. There is no billable-hour requirement, but the firm did announce a 2,000-hour target for associates earlier this year. The target seems fair but was rolled out in a way that could have been more effective, because it raised many questions about implementation and caused a lot of stress among the associates.”
  • “The work ebbs and flows in the corporate groups and can either be really busy or pretty slow. This is just a nature of the beast, and not necessarily specific to Cleary.”
  • “I am in litigation, and when it rains it pours, but that seems to be rooted more so in the fast moving investigations I am on—my normal civil litigation matters move at a much more manageable case.”
  • “The firm meets the top of the market, and makes substantial contributions to our retirement account in addition. What more can an associate ask for in terms of compensation?”
  • “Our new billable-hour [guideline] is not tied to our bonus, and the firm assures us this will continue to be the case.”
  • “The firm gave great COVID bonuses. Would have been nice if they gave late-starting first years a stipend, but generally firm is hitting market bonuses and that is nice!”
  • “Compensation (including bonuses) not tied to billable hours. One of the major differentiators in choosing this firm over others.”
  • “I am consistently provided with work that is appropriate for my seniority, and I'm frequently provided ‘stretch’ opportunities to work on matters above my seniority level.”
  • “As a [mid-level] litigation associate, I routinely write dispositive briefs, have first-chaired depositions of corporate executives, and take the lead in client interactions and meet and confers. I am deeply satisfied with the depth and quality of the work I receive.”
  • “Since I was a first year, I've been involved in all substantive aspects of my work (drafting term sheets, commitment papers, credit, security and intercreditor agreements, assisting with structuring and drafting on M&A deals). I've never been left out of a room or off a call because I was the junior member of the team. Cleary is not a firm where junior associates just do signature pages.”
  • “In general, I think the work is appropriate for my level. I will say that regulatory work is often very leanly staffed, so as a junior/midlevel you get a good amount of client interaction and ability to take ownership of projects. This is scary at first but is actually really good for longer-term development.”
  • “The firm has provided everything we have asked for to set up our at-home work space. We were provided with monitors, keyboards, a mouse, a laptop, and $300 to supplement whatever else we might need.”
  • “Cleary has made everything supremely easy to do from home. Zoom conferences have virtually entirely replaced phone conferences. The firm has plans to incorporate more zoom friendly spaces even upon return to the office and plans to institute a more flexible work from home policy upon return. Hopefully they hold to this.”
  • “The firm has done well at adapting to remote work.”
  • “IT support network is strong. [There has been] financial support for associates to work more efficiently and comfortably at home.”
  • “The firm offers a Wellness Team which develops programming on various wellness topics. The firm also started small group virtual support networks for associates during the pandemic, which I have found very valuable as a forum to discuss stress management and work-life balance during work from home.”
  • “The firm offers weekly meditation sessions with Jon Krop, an $1,800 fitness subsidy and access to various counseling services through our health insurance, including Talkspace. The firm also has a Global Well-Being team.”
  • “I would say there's a ton of effort from the firm (webinars, resources, etc.) but associates are just really busy and would rather have more time off/less work!”
  • “Online therapy, meditation sessions, sleep and nutrition training. Lots of COVID updates including [those] geared towards parents. Informal mentoring circles geared towards navigating the difficulties in the work environment.”
  • “We have a mentoring program where a small group of associates are assigned to two partners for informal group chats. This is a new program, and I’ve found it to be very helpful in gaining mentors who are invested in my development.”
  • “Within my practice group, I have a junior and a senior mentor. I am part of the women's working group, which offers mentorship. I have connected with other individuals at the firm who have made themselves very available for support and mentorship. Cleary takes mentorship VERY seriously and commits to efforts and respects time dedicated and invested in mentorship.”
  • “The Firm provides a vast array of training opportunities through the office as well as with external providers such as PLI. All associates upon their start complete a two week miniMBA designed to buttress associate business acumen. Further, transactional attorneys are encouraged to attend "corporate college," which provides additional skills training. Most firm trainings are available to watch on the Learning Hub which can be accessed by all members of the firm.”
  • “As a summer associate, I was assigned a junior associate mentor, a senior associate mentor and a partner mentor. As a first year, I have been assigned a junior associate mentor and a partner mentor. All of these individuals have always made me feel incredibly welcome and have been extremely generous with their time, arranging recurring monthly check-ins with me and assisting in my transition to the firm. I've found these relationships to be extremely valuable.”
  • “Cleary has truly excellent exit opportunities. I think the positive firm culture breeds a strong sense of community among alumni, and this translates into a strong job network upon exit.”
  • “Associates can pretty much do anything after they leave Cleary. They clerk, work for DOJ/FTC/State, or transition to other BigLaw firms in cities where Cleary does not have an office.”
  • “I think promotion to partnership can be realistic for high performers that really stick it out, though it can be challenging if there are a lot of people in a practice group that have the same goal. Numbers wise it is not likely, but most do not want to be partner anyway. Senior associates do transition to counsel or senior attorney at times rather than a partnership role.”
  • “Promotion to partner is realistic in my group for those who would like to make it. They speak to me on a regular basis about promotion. There are non-partner roles for senior associates.”
  • “I have been very impressed with Cleary's pro bono department. During OCI, I heard a lot of people talk about it, and I've been so glad to see that it was not just lip-service. Pro bono hours count as substantive billable hours, and my time working on my pro bono matters is completely respected by my billable teams.”
  • “Cleary is very committed and has excellent pro bono leadership. It is one of my favorite things about Cleary.”
  • “Pro bono worked is viewed at Cleary as if it were typical ‘billable’ work. There are a vast array of opportunities to get involved, and nearly all Cleary lawyers work on pro bono matters. Currently, I am working on four pro bono matters, many of which are in conjunction with Cleary's partnership with VLA (Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts).”
  • “[We] are encouraged to take on pro bono work, and pro bono work factors into the calculation of whether we're on track to meet performance benchmarks (which don't actually impact compensation, but it's nice to have pro bono included there anyway). I worked on a pro bono fundraise for a private fund funding underrepresented communities and donating profits, which was a very interesting experience and a great opportunity to use my real skillset for something positive and community oriented.”
  • “The firm does offer billable credit for diversity-related work and activities. The firm is generally receptive to DEI conversations and has put its weight behind DEI efforts, but there remains more work to be done, as is true for the legal industry as a whole.”
  • “The firm is working to become Mansfield Certified, which is a great step in the right direction; however, there is room for improvement. No women were promoted to partner last year, and it seems the firm does a good job to hire diverse associates, but fails to retain and promote them in correlation to their hiring percentages.”
  • “Cleary strongly emphasizes diversity, equity and inclusion. Diversity-related work and activities are very important to the firm.”

Why Work Here


Cleary Gottlieb was founded by prominent lawyers committed to excellence in the practice of law, while maintaining the highest ethical standards and diversity and collegiality in its lawyers. Our reasoning is not complicated. The best work product results from talented people working in a common enterprise, sharing their knowledge, time, and experience with colleagues. Only a handful of firms around the world are so confident of their core values that they are willing to share the rewards of their work in the way that we do. Generations of Cleary lawyers have proven there is no better way to foster excellence for ourselves and superior service for our clients.

Diversity at Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP

"Cleary Gottlieb is committed to cultivating an inclusive organizational culture, where the values, experiences and perspectives of our diverse professionals are not only celebrated, but reflected in the way we approach legal practice. Cleary talent management and diversity committees strategically identify ways to foster community within the firm among diverse lawyers and to increase communication between Cleary's leadership and the firm's diverse lawyers. This includes attorney development initiatives, curriculum training, speaker series,..."

Getting Hired Here


  • “Hiring process is focused on intellectual ability, leadership, client service orientation, and determination. [The] firm considers not just academic credentials but all types of prior work, educational, and personal experiences, as well as diversity in all its forms (racial, gender identity, socio-economic). Draw heavily from T14 schools. All lawyers are trained on how to assess candidates fairly and without bias for a candidates' similarity to one's own experience”
  • “Grades do matter, as does law school prestige. In a given class I would say 50-75% probably come from T6 schools. That said, Cleary places strong emphasis on finding candidates who are actively engaged in social and extracurricular life, intellectually curious outside of school/work, and often have some degree of interest in international affairs (as a firm with a large global footprint).”
  • “Honestly, the firm wants good grades and inquisitive minds. If you are collegial, curious and have good credentials then you are exactly who Cleary is looking for. Laid back attitudes but strong work ethic will go far here.”
  • “The firm has training for interviewing candidates. Harvard is a particular feeder school.”
  • “Hiring process is focused on intellectual ability, leadership, client service orientation, and determination. Tell me about a legal issue that was posed to you in law school at an internship, what steps you took to research and answer the questions, any difficulties you faced in answering it and how you navigated that, and what your conclusion was. Tell me about a time you had to work with a team to accomplish a goal and had to weigh competing views in order to accomplish it.”
  • “Focus on what types of substantive work the candidate has done (whether legal or otherwise), as well as leadership qualities, and cultural fit.”
  • “We try to find what experiences have interested candidates in the past, and talk to them about those topics to understand what drives them and how they contribute to projects that mean something to them.”
  • “[We] discuss items on [the candidate’s] resume, including past work experiences and papers written, [which] gives interviewer a sense of whether they are passionate about what they do, curious, [and] whether they can explain and concisely synthesize some problem or topic to an unfamiliar audience.”

Practice Area Q&A’s


Elaine Ewing

Partner

Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP
Lina Bensman

Partner

Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP
Elizabeth Lenas

Partner

Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP
Kimberly Spoerri

Partner

Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP
Duane McLaughlin

Partner

Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP

Perks & Benefits