Arnold & Porter has never been afraid to do things a little differently, having been the only major law firm in the USA willing to represent the victims of McCarthyism back in the 1950s. In 2012, it still refuses to tick all the expected boxes. It's a huge global operation with only a couple of trainees in London; a US firm with small firm hours; a corporate leviathan with a boutique-like expertise in IP and life sciences. Trainees at A&P are privy to a pretty unique training experience.
While the US part of the firm excels in everything from antitrust to government contracts work, the small UK office is much more specialised. “Our main focus in London to date has been on life sciences, healthcare, competition and IP,” explains training partner Richard Dickinson. “We are, however, continuing to bolster other areas to grow the London side of the firm. We're currently growing our corporate, international arbitration and white-collar crime capabilities.”
In fact, since we last True Pictured Arnold & Porter, it has done an awful lot of growing. It has jumped from 14 UK-based partners up to 20 – largely a result of a lateral hiring spree. It's also become embroiled in some headline-hitting cases, such as defending the Management and Standards Committee of News International on the criminal side of its recent phone-hacking misadventures.
Trainees say: “The office is always looking to grow and take on new areas of work, but we're not all of a sudden going to change our spots.”
Heal the world
Seats are available in life sciences, corporate, IP, and competition, with international arbitration and white-collar crime new additions as of 2012. Perhaps the most important thing to note about the training contract at Arnold and Porter is that, at the moment, it only takes on two trainees every other year. This comes with serious perks. “There's an open dialogue about when you do a particular seat. You can have a chat about at what stage it'd be beneficial for you, and the department's needs at the time.”
What's more, the twosome are encouraged to integrate themselves into all aspects of the firm – digging out the work that they want, from the partners that they want – even if they're not necessarily sitting in that seat at the time. “If an employment partner needs a hand, he'll ask them if they're free,” Dickinson says. “It's up to them to manage their own work-flow. It encourages them to grow as lawyers.”
The pharmaceuticals department is arguably the crowning glory of Arnold & Porter London. With big hitters like GSK and Sanofi-Aventis on its books, it's ranked among the top in the nation by Chambers UK for both its regulatory and product liability work. “It's quite nice as you get a real mix of them both,” said one source.
Trainee tasks in the department tend to filter down to trainees via associates, and include bits and bobs of drafting guidance notes, writing letters to other parties, “research on certain drugs or requirements from medical standards agencies across Europe,” and “pulling out data from expert reports.”
There are quite a few doctors and science boffins in the department and while an interest in pharmaceuticals “might help in terms of motivation, you can always look up terms on the internet or ask a partner,” if you're really stuck.
One-third of all A&P's London lawyers work in the IP group. Heading an impressive portfolio of patent work for pharma clients, the team has advised clients as diverse as dating website Plenty of Fish and the estate of Michael Jackson on protecting their trademarks.
Trainees “absolutely love” their time in the seat. “It was about 50/50 transactional and litigious work,” said one. “On the one hand helping out with patent work, soft IP and copyright advice, and on the other drafting witness statements and sitting with counsel in court.”
A&P's corporate group in London is tiny – it has only three partners, and quite a few of its matters originate in the USA. It dips its toes into sovereign debt work, helps out the firm's pharmaceutical clients with their corporate requirements, and works for some big-name retail brands, including trendy Urban Outfitters and Anthropologie.
The even-smaller competition seat quite often sends trainees out to the Brussels office, where they're able to get involved in work for clients like Kraft, AT&T and Monsanto. “I had some quite substantive work – things like reviewing contracts for dominant clients – but it wasn't regular,” claimed one trainee. Trainees in these groups regularly find themselves getting “dragged into a whole mish-mash of things” by other rogue partners – particularly “bits and bobs” for real estate and “research on foreign jurisdictions” for telecoms.
There are few trainee-specific training sessions at A&P “but the quality of work you get given trains you in a less formal way.” Of course, there's the odd “doc review from hell,” but on the whole sources agreed that: “All my work is really worthwhile, and I'm spending time fruitfully rather than photocopying.”
They're particularly encouraged to strut their legal stuff by taking on pro bono work. The office has its own pro bono co-ordinator who alerts everyone to incoming cases. “We're encouraged to get involved in those matters from the beginning – we do everything from LGBT matters to the use of CCTV. You get work you wouldn't necessarily be doing in your practice group.”
There's plenty of UK-based work floating around but “a pretty substantial chunk has an international connection.” All new qualifiers get to visit “the mothership” in Washington, DC for a firm-wide New Associates' Retreat – a week of seminars and socialising. This regular contact aside, trainees “do quite often feel like we're just a good London City law firm, rather than part of the bigger American side. It's nice to be a bit independent.”
It's also nice to have more easygoing hours. Trainees do sometimes graft into the early hours but in general, “most people are out of the office by 7.30pm.”
Garden room with a view
It might be growing apace, but there's no denying that A&P is very cosy for a City firm. “By the end of my training contract I knew everyone in the firm and had worked with all the partners, and most of the associates,” noted one NQ. It's a pretty tight-knit place – the type of firm where partners will chat with trainees over the water cooler. The two current trainees and a group including London managing partner Tim Frazer even decided to embark on a charity cycling trip together.
It's not all bike rides and hand-holding, however, and newbies are expected to bring a healthy dose of oomph to their training experience. “If you're interested in a certain type of work, you can't wait for someone to offer it to you. You need to be proactive about making your wishes known.”
Based up in the clouds in the City's Tower 42, A&P's office is all about the “breathtaking” views. “I don't know how I get any work done up here” mused one distracted source, looking out over St Paul's. Every Thursday everyone from admin staff up to partners takes in the vista at the 'Garden Room' – the weekly drinks and nibbles event fondly named after the conservatory in the firm's original DC office. “There's generally a pretty good turnout.”
Our sources do occasionally miss the buzzing social scene of some bigger firms, but assured us that “for a small firm, they do try more than most,” and always put on events for birthdays and special occasions.
Competition to train at A&P is hot, with about 700 applications for the two prized training contracts. Those candidates who get lucky don't always have a background in pharmaceuticals – it's worked out as a 50/50 split in the last few years – but do have a good reason for choosing A&P. “We want well-rounded, academically good people,” says Richard Dickinson; “people with a spark, who want us for the right reasons. We want it to be an almost symbiotic relationship.”
If this sounds appealing, we have good news – increasing the size of the trainee intake is “actively under consideration.”
Since the firm started its training contract in 2002, it has kept 100% of its qualifiers. Even more impressively, only one of those has left the firm since then.