Interested in Working for a Big Law Firm?

Brooklyn Bridge at and the Lower Manhattan skyline under a purple sunset

Guest speaker Todd Mortensen spoke to BYU law students on November 7, 2016 about working for a big law firm in New York City.

Mortensen is an associate at Sullivan & Cromwell LLP in the firm’s Corporate & Finance practice group. He defined a big law firm as having 250 attorneys or more. His practice focuses on restructuring and reorganization, leveraged finance, mergers and acquisitions, capital markets, and corporate finance transactions in the United States and Latin America.

Mortensen discussed how to prepare for a career at a big law firm. “You need to have a conversation with yourself about trade-offs,” he said. He interprets trade-offs as the rewards and demands of the profession, and whether the rewards are worth it.

Mortensen’s rewards vs. demands of big law firm practice:


  1. High compensation – can be paid $180,000 a starting salary
  2. High profile work and intelligent/dynamic co-workers
  3. Networking opportunities
  4. Work in major cities
  5. Compelling exit opportunities


  1. Unpredictable and variable schedule
  2. High pressure situations
  3. Variable workload
  4. Subject to client requests
  5. Large organization dynamics
  6. “Up or out” career path – you may be asked to leave the firm if the firm decides to take a new direction
  7. High-cost of living in big cities


Mortensen has thoroughly enjoyed his time as a lawyer in New York City. “New York is considered by many to be the legal capital of the world,” he said. According to Mortensen, the legal talent in New York provides an exceptional opportunity for young attorneys to practice alongside experienced attorneys. Another advantage of practicing in New York City is the urban landscape; Mortensen takes his daughters to shows on Broadway periodically and attends United Nation events.

Mortensen’s tips on landing a job at a big law firm:

  • Most law firms hire from the summer associate programs
  • Interviews are held at target law schools
  • Grades + Resumes + Legwork = Job
  • “Firms generally look for students with excellent grades, a history of high achievement, demonstrated leadership qualities, and a keen interest in the law.”
  • Recruiting: for 1Ls– submit resumes and cover letters between the dates of December 1st through February of 1L year; for 2Ls – submit resumes and cover letters in July,  interviews are from August through September; for 3L’s – occasionally 3Ls are interviewed to fill in vacancies.

Mortensen’s suggestions for success as a lawyer:

  1. Be adaptable.
  2. Be sensitive to others’ needs.
  3. Remember why you choose to do what you do.

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