Once every two years, two bright-eyed candidates are selected to train at Arnold & Porter, an American outfit in the City whose work has a distinct pharma bent.
The UK arm of Washington, DC-headquartered Arnold & Porter is strongly associated with its work in areas like life sciences, IP and competition. But the office is broadening its scope: the corporate practice has grown in recent years, while the white-collar crime group was kept busy by the furore surrounding the News Of The World phone hacking and bribery cases. Renovation work in the office has also triggered talk of further expansion, and one interviewee observed: “They've taken out leases for extra floors, so maybe they're thinking of hiring more people. We don't know yet...”
Interviewees targeted A&P because they were looking for a specialised firm geared towards their areas of particular interest. Of the two trainees and two NQs with the firm at the time of our calls, three had science degrees (in microbiology, biochemistry and chemistry), while the fourth had studied law. Previous careers in the pharma industry are common too. We recommend you check out the firm's website to get an idea of what degrees and backgrounds A&P's London lawyers commonly have, although the firm stresses that a science background is not a prerequisite.
For a small firm with only two trainees there are a surprising number of seat options, six in fact: life sciences, intellectual property, corporate, competition, international arbitration and white-collar crime. A stint in life sciences or corporate is pretty much inevitable. A new partner hire in financial services could mean opportunities in this area for trainees soon. Business needs and informal chats determine where A&P's trainee pair end up going at each rotation. The two quickly come to understand what all the departments do, making it easy for them to work out where they might want to spend time. In addition, “if the team you're officially sat with is a bit quiet you can ask for work from different areas – it helps to be proactive.” Further flexibility is added by occasional client secondments – trainees will likely spend between two and six months away from the office during one of their seats.
Life sciences is the office's biggest department and undoubtedly the jewel in A&P's crown. The firm is top-ranked in Chambers UK for regulatory, product liability and general life sciences work – a feat unmatched by any other firm. Clients include recent potential merger partners Pfizer and AstraZeneca, as well as that other behemoth of the pharma industry, GSK. On the product liability side, London lawyers recently defended German pharma company Grünenthal against damages claims tied to the historical testing and marketing of thalidomide in the UK – product liability work doesn't get any bigger or more serious than that. Regulatory advice, meanwhile, may touch on equally serious issues like clinical testing, generic substitution laws and the borderline between medicines and devices. Trainees are given administrative tasks like bundling, but also undertake research, draft memos and respond to enquiries. “I felt heavily involved in all the cases,” one trainee confirmed. “The seat is a great introduction to the world of pharmaceuticals.”
A quarter of A&P's London lawyers work in the IP department, which does a mix of patent litigation, soft/commercial IP and trade mark portfolio management. Work ranges from assisting pharma giants with asthma inhaler patents, to advising media clients like Disney, ITV and MTV. The firm recently acted for the first of these in a dispute over the IP rights to the name 'The Avengers'. Sources reported that some of the work has a European focus. For example, lawyers acted for GSK in a dispute about the delivery of a new form of diabetes medication, in which the opposing parties were Swiss company Ypsomed (which makes the disposable pen and injection needle) and Germany's Vetter (which makes the syringe cartridges). Trainees told us they had taken part in client meetings, drafted provisions for contracts, attended cases at the Patent Court, and done copyright and trade mark research.
The corporate group is home to just seven lawyers. Although it's “not the main strength of the London office,” lawyers have been working to build up the firm's mid-market M&A reputation. Partner Anna Buscall was hired from Allen & Overy in 2012, and the latest Chambers UK research suggests the firm's efforts are paying off. The group focuses on life sciences and retail work (for which the firm is Chambers-ranked) and a lot of the work streams in from the US. For example, lawyers recently represented UK designer outlet manager McArthurGlen on a €435m joint venture with Simon Property, the largest mall owner in the US. When the department's busy, trainees are given administrative tasks to help get deals done, and at the height of closings may stay at work until the wee hours. During quieter times, trainees pick up company secretarial work –“setting up new company registers, dealing with changes of directors etc.” There's some capital markets work too – almost exclusively sovereign debt offerings for non-European governments like Israel, Brazil, Tunisia and Honduras.
A&P is recognised by Chambers USA as one of the ten best firms in America for competition work (or 'antitrust' as the Yanks call it). The London competition practice is well regarded too, winning a Chambers UK ranking and working on “high-value deals worth billions of dollars.” The six-lawyer team works closely with the ten-strong Brussels office (which is exclusively competition-focused). Ad hoc secondments to the city of Tintin and Euro-federalism are available to trainees, especially “if there's a filing going on with the European Commission.” There's a focus on training in this seat with a lot of multi-jurisdictional research as well as the chance to “listen and learn” on conference calls with clients.
There are hardly any American lawyers knocking around A&P's London office, which means the firm has the feel more of a small City outfit than a strapping American. Firm-wide e-mails, annual meetings with “the head honchos from the States,” and regular video conferences help keep links with the US alive. After qualification, NQs are flown to the DC HQ in order to hobnob with the latest cohort of junior associates joining the firm stateside. It's an occasion where “the ethos of the firm” is really rammed home. “It was very cheesy,” reported one source, “with lots of rousing speeches!”
While tub-thumping is not the done thing in A&P's London office, one imported American tradition is the weekly drinks social: “In DC everyone goes up to the roof terrace on a Thursday evening to socialise so we do the same.” The event is held in the impressive-sounding Garden Room, though before you imagine a cornucopia of dense foliage and exotic orchids we can confirm the room in fact contains one rather fake-looking conifer. Even though the flora may not be so impressive, the views are: A&P is based on the 30th floor of the City's Tower 42 (formerly the NatWest building).
Besides the weekly Garden Room bash there are end-of-deal drinks and client events to be enjoyed as well, but interviewees warned that “you can't join A&P expecting a lot of trainee socialising.” That isn't a surprise given there are only ever two trainees around at any one time.Iit makes up for this in work/life balance, however: the hours are reportedly not as intense as at most other US or City firms. While there are still times when trainees might be “slammed” and have to burn the midnight oil (especially in corporate), on average lawyers can merrily trot out of the office by about 7.30pm.
Since 2006 all eight trainees who've qualified at the firm have been kept on, most joining the life sciences and IP departments.
Vacation scheme deadline: 8 March 2015
Training contract deadline: 3 August 2015
Arnold & Porter only recruits just two trainees every other year. Accordingly, those years are the only one when it holds a vacation scheme. Of the latest trainee intake, one had completed the vac scheme, while the other was a direct applicant.
Graduate recruitment coordinator Lisa Cadzow tells us it's possible the recruiting scope will increase in size and/or frequency in years to come, but for the time being “we're happy with it – we've been able to give job offers to every trainee since the training scheme began, which is an important consideration for the firm.”
The firm generally receives around 300 applications for the eight spots vac scheme places available, plus another 700 to 800 from people gunning directly for a training contract.
Both types of application begin with the same form. It covers standard fare like 'Why law?' and 'Why Arnold & Porter?' and candidates are also be asked to provide examples of situations in which they occupied positions of responsibility. There are no commercial-based questions.
Following an application screening, the firm invites around 20 vac scheme applicants to interview for a spot. We're told this is a basic chat, takes place with the training principal Richard Dickinson and a senior associate, and involves with no problem-solving exercises or written assessments.
Meanwhile, training contract applicants who pass muster – usually around 20 (note, this figure includes those who've completed a vac scheme with the firm) – are invited to attend an interview, again with Richard Dickinson and a senior associate.
Applicants are asked to allow up to three hours for the interview. This is so there's time to prepare an answer to a legal problem before the actual discussion. “We give them a legal problem to review,” says Cadzow, “and part of the interview process is for the candidate to talk us through their response. Although there is a legal theme, what we are really interested in is seeing how the candidate approaches the problem and how they communicate their response to the interviewers.”
Then they go on to discuss the candidate's CV, application and expectations for a training contract at A&P. Dickinson tells us: "One of our main gripes is that sometimes interviewees haven't even looked at the basics – like our website – before they come in. Some people look fantastic on paper, but when you scratch the surface a little bit, they just haven't done the basic preparation for any interview, let alone for us. For example, people at interview stage are quite often told who they are meeting, but they don’t even look them up on the website."
From here, the firm tends to make its offers, though Cadzow tells us “if we have more than two ideal candidates, we might invite them back for an additional interview to decide.”
A&P's vac scheme is two weeks long and takes place in the summer.
Training and inductions take up the first day. Then follows a series of daily workshops, one of A&P's tools for assessing vac schemers. Cadzow talks us through one: “We'll give them a scenario – for example, a biotech company being set up – and have them run through the life-cycle of this project. At each stage we tie in the work the relevant department here conducts. The corporate department sets the company up, IP deals with issues around protecting and using their IP rights, and so on.”
Alongside these workshops, each vac schemer has their own project to work on that tests their drafting skills, capacity for meeting deadlines and ability to follow instructions. They also get involved in pieces of live work lawyers around the firm have on; they aren't tied to a specific team or department. Finally, toward the end of the two weeks, vac schemers are given a topic and tasked with formulating a group presentation.
The vac scheme concludes with exit interview with Dickinson and a senior associate. The process ends here for those who'd still like to be considered for a training contract. “Generally, we don't interview them again as we've already had a lot of exposure to them throughout the vac scheme as well as the exit interview.”
Student Guide: How has the London office evolved since its inception?
Richard Dickinson: The practice was started back in 1997, when one partner came over from the US to establish the office. Since then it has been very much a UK-based type of practice, manned by UK-practitioners: every now and then American qualified lawyers come in, but unlike a number of US firms they don't just send a whole host of US partners over. The head of the London office, Tim Frazer, has been here for donkeys' years – he's ex-DLA and he used to be the Dean of Law at Newcastle University.
The US is such a huge marketplace, but we are very well known for very particular specialisms, which we try to mirror in all of our offices. That's the idea behind the London office. There's a very strong regulatory angle to it all, and when I say 'regulatory' I'm especially referring to the life sciences work we do in London. We also have a competition law team here – which we're very well known for in the States – and slowly but surely the office has built upon its offering: we've now got recognised practices in intellectual property, corporate, employment, telecoms, white collar crime and international arbitration now.
SG: What does the future hold, both on a firm-wide and London-specific scale?
RD: One thing that we and many other firms are having to deal with is globalisation. It is here, whether we like it or not, and there are so many different strategies that firms have adopted: some have had great success, and some have had perhaps less than they were hoping for. Those strategies might include becoming a global firm and doing it alone, pursuing mergers and opening up new offices, or deciding that you're a particular type of firm which will have an exclusive or non-exclusive ‘best friends’ partnership.
We are known for being a bit more cautious in terms of not rushing out there headlong and doing things. We think about things and whether or not they are right for us strategically, both in terms of the marketplace, and also in terms of the practice areas that we have and are well known for. We are always looking for synergies with these areas.
The London office was established to be the hub for Europe, and to operate as a ‘hub and spoke’ arrangement with trusted partners in each different European country. We are a member of one of the international legal networks, but as it's a non-exclusive arrangement, we've managed to work out which firms we can partner with in order to complete work in different territories and for different specialisations. We don't just necessarily go to one firm for everything – so in the IP space we may go to one particular firm in Germany, whereas my life sciences regulatory colleagues may go to a different firm. We can therefore cherry-pick who we think is right for the job.
Looking to the future, the firm is committed to supporting and increasing the size of the London office, as it is seen as a very critical office. We combined with Howard Rice over in San Francisco, which was a fantastic success – and who knows if something like that will happen in London? I don't know, but London is seen as a place to expand in, while New York is another key market for us. One thing I can't imagine us doing is suddenly opening a whole host of satellite offices as a number of firms do: it just doesn't fit with the ethos of the firm.
SG: The London office recently took on some extra floor space. Are you growing?
RD: We are always looking at opportunities. The lateral hiring partner here who deals with senior level recruitment is always very active when it comes to speaking with potential hires.
Slowly but surely we are continuing to increase in size, whether that's through individual or team hires. There is an appetite to grow. I don't have any big announcements to make right now, and I won't give away the terms of our lease – but committing to more floor space is a commitment by the firm to grow in London. We currently have some building work going on, which involves taking on more floor space, but we're also increasing the aesthetic quality of the office too.
It's all about ensuring that things work so that when people come in, they bed in well. Since I've been here, we've had white-collar crime and international arbitration lawyers arrive. We've also increased the strength of our corporate team through Anna Buscall, who joined us from A&O in 2012. Anna has not just strengthened our corporate team, but also our life sciences offering, as she has a great deal of experience in the overall life sciences M&A market as well. With lateral hires, we are always thinking about building upon the current strengths we have.
SG: Does the London office have much interaction with other branches?
RD: The thing I love about this firm is that they do want people to get to know each other. On the work side, for example, I work closely with my non-contentious IP colleagues over in the US, including lawyers in San Francisco and a collection of lawyers in DC. We work on similar projects – sometimes these projects may be international in scope and sometimes they may simply require additional support. We've worked together on a number of international roll outs too. There's an online streaming service called ‘Ultraviolet,’ which allows DVD or Blu-ray owners the rights to the digital version as well. From DC and London, we've helped Ultraviolet launch its service in the US, Canada, the UK, Australia and New Zealand. Additionally, with all the time zone differences considered, London ends up being the key market place.
On a firm-wide integration level, partners and counsel have an annual meeting. That obviously doesn't include everybody, so there are different retreats as well. As soon as someone joins the firm (and when a trainee qualifies, for example) they get sent on a retreat which brings together all juniors and new joiners. There are also mid-level and senior retreats. These happen every year, and it's nice because you get to grow through the firm together. It's important because you may think that you're alone in experiencing certain things at a particular stage of your career, but when you're at the retreat you realise that others are going through the same thing, even if they are in different offices or different departments. You all have the same issues to address at different points in your career, so it's always good to check with people and talk through it.
We also have practice area retreats as well – they happen on a less frequent basis. We had one for IP this year where we all got to meet each other. It's a great way to not only educate yourself about laws in various jurisdictions, but also just to get to know people: it's always easier to work with people once you get to know them!
SG: How autonomous does the London office feel?
RD: A firm has to have one direction – clearly you can't have the different offices going off along various paths. Nevertheless, in terms of what is right for the UK market and what is right for us, I feel that we are certainly listened to. The firm’s management is very aware that marketplaces can be different for different offices and that each one comes with its own strengths and weaknesses. We are involved in the key decisions that relate to London, and we certainly propose the agenda here – I don't feel as if I'm dictated to. Sometimes we in London know what is best for the office, and they do listen to us in that regard.
There is a certain amount of autonomy with regards to the client base as well. There are clients which spread across the whole firm, and then there are those that are exclusive to Europe and those which are a bit in-between. I don't think anybody would be brought into the firm to simply sit there and say 'please pass me the work.' Instead, everybody's here saying 'we're going out to get it', and we generate most of our own business from clients who are either European or UK-based, or even US-based. There's a lot of autonomy given to partners so that they can go out there and run their practices: it's not for other people to pass clients on.
SG: How would you describe the culture at Arnold & Porter – does it feel particularly American?
RD: The firm isn't like a New York, white shoe, Wall Street firm – we aren't one of those. I have to say that when I was really very junior I didn't understand the difference between all the different firms out there. I just thought: 'I'm never going to go to an American firm, as they'll work me to the ground, and I'll be sat in a data room the whole time.’ But that's not the case here at all.
It's a very collaborative environment. I think people would describe it as friendly, and there is certainly more of a flat structure which allows everybody to be listened to. Given our size in London, sometimes you do just need all hands to the pump so everybody has got to get along and just get on with it. If you push the hierarchy too much, that collaborative atmosphere can't exist.
How do we foster it? I think it's just down to the fact that the office developed in the way it did with limited people coming in – but coming in from quite significant City practices. They expected quality work and this type of client base, but they also came here with an overall working manner. Subsequently, like-minded people have then joined, so the same atmosphere has been cultivated.
This is also a place where you can just go and talk to people. When the chairman of the firm, Tom Milch, is over here, or Richard Alexander (the managing partner), they will sit down with the associates and have a Q&A session – and I'm not aware of many other firms that do that. The London associates have a very personal connection with two of the leading people within the firm – they can just chat to them about whatever may be relevant at that time.
SG: Do you think students are beginning to perceive American firms differently?
RD: There's a move away from the perception that American firms are scary places that you never leave before midnight. American firms are more common in London now, and the mergers with traditional UK-only firms have led to a change in culture. The profession is also talking more about US firms and what they do, so there's a lot more information available for students. This has helped demonstrate that there isn’t just one type of US firm; there is a variety, each with different specialisms and strengths.
At the same time, perceptions of UK firms are also changing – there are certain firms that are viewed in a particular way, with some being seen as scarier than others. The internet allows people to really research what is behind a firm and what it might say about itself. As a result, students are becoming a lot more savvy: they will question things a lot more and make up their own minds.
SG: Do you have any recommendations or tips for those considering applying?
RD: It is key that people know what they want. As an office, we have a set of specialisms and are recognised for certain things: if people want something else, it's best that they speak to other firms. I interviewed someone who really wanted to do international finance, and they were talking about working with banks. Although we do some work with banks, we don't on the scale that this individual was describing – why were they not talking to Clifford Chance or Slaughter & May? We also talked about global expansion, and despite the fact that all of our offices are listed on our website, they asked if they would be offered a secondment in Hong Kong – no!
Given the size of our office and the intake, trainees are an incredibly valuable resource for us. They get involved at the high end, and will attend client meetings and so on. Generally speaking, our candidates need to be personable people. Clients don’t just need good service; they also want to get along with the people they're working with. When you're with clients for long hours, conversation will inevitably turn away from the job you are doing and onto general life. We need personable people who are able to have those conversations and feel comfortable doing so.
SG: And you don't need a degree in microbiology to apply here?
RD: No, no, no. It’s a misconception that in order to come to us you need to have some sort of science degree – which is believed because of our strong life sciences practice. A science degree may or may not be helpful depending on what you want to do, but we don't look for it exclusively.
We look at what people have done, what they have excelled at and their reasons for wanting to come here. Within the IP team, there's probably a 50/50 split in terms of those who do and do not have a scientific background. Not having that kind of background wouldn't put people at a disadvantage; it would only be an obstacle if an individual was keen to specialise in a niche area where they would need to rely on a science degree. It’s certainly not something we require.
Over the past few years, Arnold & Porter has bolstered its London office with a series of lateral hires on the corporate, international arbitration, financial services and white-collar crime sides.
The firm established its white-collar team in February 2011, when Kathleen Harris, former head of policy at the Serious Fraud Office, joined the firm. Harris is not the first SFO figure to leave the government department for a private practice; in recent years, the SFO has lost members to the likes of Kirkland & Ellis, White & Case, Covington & Burling, and McGuire Woods.
Many of these moves coincided with the implementation of the UK's Bribery Act in July 2011, which prompted the above firms to seek out experts on the Act to reassure clients concerned by the ramifications of the legislation. Before joining the SFO, Kathleen Harris was the senior strategic policy advisor in the Attorney General's Office, and had also worked at both HMRC and the Department of Work and Pensions. She played a key part in drafting Bribery Act-related policy during her time at the SFO.
With Harris on board, A&P started to build up a white-collar practice in London to complement the Chambers-ranked practice it already had in Washington, DC.
The team is now six lawyers strong and recently played the role of criminal advisor to the Management and Standards Committee of News Corporation, assisting with the News Of The World phone-hacking case and the subsequent police payments investigation. The fallout from the Leveson Inquiry – which was responsible for investigating both of these cases – has been significant: a flurry of resignations, arrests, convictions (for former News of the World editor Andy Coulson and the paper's reporters), and further international investigations all arose out of the scandal. Public outrage at the behaviour of those investigated is unlikely to cool in the near future, and George Clooney is even set to adapt Guardian journalist Nick Davies' account of the saga, Hack Attack, into a film.
It's difficult to imagine a more gripping matter to herald A&P London's foray into world of the white-collar crime. A glance at the team's other cases of late reveal it's been busy in some other high-profile furores too. The details of these are largely confidential, but we can share that lawyers recently represented those implicated in the Libor scandal, and are also acting for several companies being investigated for overseas corruption as well as individuals being questioned for tax evasion. Time will tell how the practice will develop, but it's certainly off to a good start.
Arnold & Porter (UK) LLP
Tower 42, 25 Old Broad Street,