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Monday, Jun 27, 2022

How to Be a Firm that Businesses Call When Billions are at Stake

Custom Content by the Los Angeles Business Journal

If you read the news, you have likely read about the work of Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP (MTO).
Headquartered in Los Angeles, MTO is sought after by some of the world’s largest companies when the stakes are high.
The firm was founded in 1962 by seven lawyers, including Charlie Munger, vice-chairman of Berkshire Hathaway. Today, this 200-lawyer firm has three offices and a “who’s who” roster of clients such as Google, Disney, Bank of America, PG&E, BNSF, Intel, Amgen, Fortress and Berkshire Hathaway, among many others.
We sat down with firm chair Brad D. Brian, a Chambers Global-ranked trial lawyer and one of 18 “Lawyers of the Decade” in California honored by the Daily Journal.
We unpacked the philosophies that form the core of MTO’s original and enduring formula for success.

MTO is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year. What was the original vision when the firm was founded? Has it changed?

Brian: More than half a century ago, our seven founders set out to create an entirely different kind of law firm—dedicated to solving companies’ most complex problems, hiring and promoting the brightest lawyers, and giving back to the community—all through a democratic culture that encouraged early responsibility and ownership. Our vision remains unchanged. We think it has helped us maintain our commitment to hiring exceptional lawyers who can guide companies through their most challenging problems. We hire only top talent, recruiting from the top 5% to 10% of law school classes and from clerkships. Around 85% of our lawyers clerked for judges and 10% clerked for the U.S. Supreme Court. No other firm in the country replicates this while handling the complex cases that we do.


Many law firms tout differentiation. What are the most distinctive elements of MTO’s offering to an outsider?

Brian: It is our “problem-solving culture.” I think we excel at getting really smart lawyers together in a room—or on Zoom—to solve our client’s most difficult problems. This can be a crisis like the civil and criminal litigation arising from the Northern California wildfires, a complex appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, or a multi-billion dollar transaction. Our work has helped us earn a reputation for navigating complex issues that require out-of-the-box thinking.
Second, our firm is loaded with exceptional trial lawyers. We are often called upon to try cases across the country, in state and federal courts, and in arbitrations. Whether it’s John Spiegel, Greg Stone, Hailyn Chen, Glenn Pomerantz, Malcolm Heinicke, Martin Estrada, Bryan Heckenlively, Bethany Kristovich, Jonathan Kravis, Robyn Bacon, Laura Smolowe, or Blanca Young—to name just some of our trial lawyers—we match up quite well against any of the largest firms in the country.


MTO seems to disprove the notion that “bigger is better” when it comes to law firm success. What is MTO’s secret to punching above its weight class?

Brian: Much of our firm’s success comes from our low leverage and lack of hierarchy. Our low leverage model—known as our “one-to-one” partner/associate ratio —is a byproduct of hiring the best people. It serves our clients well because it means we do not need to over-staff cases. Having recruited the brightest lawyers in the first place, we entrust them with early responsibility. For clients, this means that if you hire us, you get an exceptionally talented team, from our newest lawyers to our most experienced partners.
I also believe our lack of hierarchy has created a breeding ground for the creativity we are known for. We don’t require lawyers to select a practice group. Lawyers can build their workloads by matching interests to active matters. We believe that when lawyers have freedom, they will be drawn to client work that satisfies them and the legal issues they are uniquely positioned to tackle. This creates a sweet spot where personal interests, skill, and client needs intersect.
This also creates a more collegial environment, which serves both our clients and lawyers. When you reject hierarchy, you eliminate detrimental behavior like politicking and rivalry. In a flat law firm like ours, there are no bosses to please and no one to elbow aside for a title. Instead, all of your energy goes into what is most important: doing the best work for our clients.

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