WACHTELL: Here's What It's Like To Work For America's Most Gruelling Law Firm

For the 10th year in a row,
careers website Vaulthas named New York City law firm Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz as the
most prestigious law firm in America.

Wachtell is known for taking on risky, “messy” work, according to Vault. The firm specialises in very complicated deal-making — including Bank of America’s purchase of Merrill Lynch for $US50 billion.

The firm also has a lower associate-to-partner ratio than most other firms, meaning new lawyers get to take on important work right away. They also don’t get to sleep a lot.

Vault gave Business Insider access to its “Gold” membership so we could see Wachtell associates’ reviews of what it’s really like to work there. Here’s a window into America’s most competitive, intense, and gruelling law firms.

The Hours

“We’re always expected to be working, which is never great, but it’s just a totally different mindset that people buy into. At some level, I sense that everyone wants to be here and enjoys the work they’re doing, even if there’s an overwhelming amount of it.”

“It is not the number of hours worked that is difficult; it is the expectation of availability at all hours.”

The Pay

Wachtell starts associates at $US165,000, which is just about $US5,000 more than the going rate in New York.

But its bonuses are huge. Before the recession, the firm was known for giving associates bonuses that were 100% of their base salary. Bonuses reportedly fell to 50% after the recession, but that still meant that first-years were getting nearly $US250,000. In any event, lawyers there seem quite happy with the pay:

“Our compensation is legendary, and it lives up to the expectations.”

“It just can’t be beat. The partners’ willingness to show their appreciation for associates through the compensation structure is a real plus. It makes associates feel great about the hard work they do.”

The Work

“I spend the vast majority of my time drafting briefs, memos in preparation for briefs, and participating in pretty high-level strategy decisions. I do doc review, but not a lot and almost always in situations in which the documents are definitely highly relevant and the review requires strategic calls relating to privilege or is done for the purpose of preparing for depositions or briefing.”

“Everyone has to do some level of diligence as a junior associate, but by rule the firm only really takes on interesting matters and complicated work. I love what I do here.”

On-the-job Training

“It’s a sink or swim mentality for the most part. The partners give you work and expect you to figure it out. It’s the best way to learn, if a bit overwhelming.”

Career Prospects

“Partnership is realistic if you survive that long. If I leave, I know I’m leaving from the top. But working anywhere else would be a let-down at this point.”

Know somebody who worked at Wachtell? Let us know about their experience in the comments.

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