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What Wilmer Can Teach the Red Sox

Vivia Chen

October 5, 2011

Summersgill_Michael_hi Michael Summersgill, the hiring partner at Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr, is sitting down with The Careerist today to discuss the hiring scene at the 1,000 lawyer firm.

You must be knee-deep in law school student interviews right now. Have you made any offers for the summer?
Half of our summer class is in the door. We are waiting to hear from [other] candidates about their decisions to see if we'll be making additional offers.

Wow--that was fast. So what do you think of this year's crop so far?
The folks I've seen have been very impressive. We have relatively high acceptance rates, which indicates that we're giving offers to those who are the right fit.

Ah, yes, that "right" fit. Firms love to talk about that. What does it mean at your shop?
Paper does matter--[meaning] their grades and where they went to law school. But we look beyond that. We look for people who are positive, enthusiastic--people who have energy and are team players.

I hear those buzz words--"positive vibe," "teamwork"--all the time. But how does Wilmer identify those qualities?
It's through the interview process. Candidates meet five people [on callbacks]. You ask questions. I don't micromanage the specific questions that people ask.

So what do you personally like to ask?
I'll ask questions like, "What's your dream job?" Sometimes they'll say, "To be a Wilmer Hale partner." Then I'll ask, "Well, if not that, then what?"

You're kidding, right? People actually say being a Wilmer partner is their dream job? How can you not burst out laughing when they say that?
I try not to laugh at people's answers.

That's nice. Can you tell me what knocks your socks off about a candidate?
They'll usually have several things covered--be at one of the top law schools, have interesting experiences beyond law school, or have done valuable things with their time. We also look for people who didn't go to law school because it's the thing to do, but who really want to be lawyers. For instance, a potential litigator is curious about what we do, excited about doing depositions, and really want to know what it takes to do a brief.

That would certainly be hard for me to fake. Seriously, though, is it normal for a law student without any real legal experience to be passionate about doing depositions and briefs?
Well, you're right. But a lot of candidates these days are quite sophisticated. If they're interested in litigation, they would at least be exposed to it in movies and TV. And on the transactional side, some have worked in places like Goldman Sachs. They are also good about looking things up on the Internet. They are very well-informed.

So are law students smarter about practice, or they just play the game better?
They have more access to information now. I wouldn't say they are smarter.

Everyone knows that Wilmer is a very prestigious firm. But what makes you different from the other tony firms in D.C. or Boston?
We're one of the best-run firms out there. [Co-managing partners] Bill Lee and Bill Perlstein have strategic vision; and the success of the merger [between Hale and Dorr and Wilmer Cutler]  is a good example. The way we came out of the recession is another example The firm and the business are thriving. Working in a firm that's well-run makes a huge difference.

What about the soft stuff about Wilmer?
We don't take ourselves seriously. We're a cohesive group, and being part of a great team makes a great difference. The Red Sox might have gone farther if they had better chemistry.

 See other hiring partner interviews: Baker BottsBoies, Schiller; Debevoise & Plimpton; Jones DayFenwick & WestK&L Gates; Kramer LevinPaul, Hastings; Paul WeissPepper Hamilton; Quinn Emanuel; Sidley & AustinSkadden; Susman Godfrey; and Vinson & Elkins.

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About The Careerist

The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: VChen@alm.com

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