Allen & Overy LLP

How to get an Allen & Overy training contract

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When asked how and why they chose A&O, several interviewees told us: “It's a magic circle firm at the end of the day – it gets the best legal work out there.” This firm seeks high-flyers, no question. As such, Oxbridge-educated trainees are a dime a dozen, though there are plenty of people at A&O who elude this categorisation. In our random sample of interviewees we came across a number of people from Russell Group unis as well as institutions abroad. All in all 2013 saw 42 universities represented among the 190-strong cohort.

While insiders agreed “there's no typical A&O trainee,” many pointed out the firm is not a place for slackers. “There are certainly enough people to hide behind, but you won’t be rewarded for it.” Likewise, a shy personality won't do you any favours. “People are extremely personable and most can hold a conversation with anyone. That's something they keep an eye out for during interviews.” Chatty Cathys, take note.

The recruitment process 

In recent years, vac scheme selection has become a much more rigorous process. The first interview is conducted with a partner, senior associate or member of graduate recruitment, and is an opportunity to discuss the candidates’ skills and qualities, as well as their motivation for a commercial career. “They cover general stuff like why you love the law.”

The second interview centres on “quite an intense case study. Mine was a set of documents that I got 30 minutes to read over,” one source shared. Said another, perhaps a tad hyperbolically: “I’ve heard people get annihilated in there.” Indeed, insiders agreed “they don’t go easy on you” but conceded “it’s not as though it's confrontational. They want you to succeed.” It still sounds a bit intense to us, but trainees advised applicants “prepare for it just as you would any interview – read the news, be ready to talk about what’s going on in the industry and really think about why you’re applying here.”  

Some of our sources had done their vac schemes pre-credit crunch, “right at the height of corporate gluttony. They absolutely peppered us with dinners, drinks and fun things to do.” Halcyon days! In more recent, less decadent times, the scheme is more work-focused, though we did hear about the odd roof barbeque and pizza-making excursion. Vac schemers usually sit alongside a qualified lawyer for their three weeks and get involved in the day-to-day activities of a few different departments.

Alongside this supervised work are workshops and talks on various practice areas and key skills, as well as other negotiations and presentations. Some lucky summer vac schemers even get the chance to spend a week in one of A&O’s international offices. In 2013 destinations included Dubai, New York, Hong Kong and Frankfurt.

Our sources' biggest bit of advice? “Get out there and talk to as many people as you can.” A good way to get started on this is by attending an A&O open day, which is “kind of like a vac scheme in a day.” Students can attend workshops, shadow trainees and, perhaps most importantly, get tips from insiders on the interview process.

Interview with Richard Hough, graduate recruitment partner

Student Guide: There have been a lot of big deals and new clients in the last year to suggest the firm is in good shape. How do you feel about where the firm is at the moment? Do you credit any particular aspects of the strategy for A&O's success? 

Richard Hough: In terms of the current market, the deal environment is certainly improving. We announced our annual results a few weeks ago and turnover was up marginally. Which is encouraging in this difficult market. The last quarter in particular demonstrated a real pick up in both revenue and activity. It's not that surprising that our more mature offices like London and continental Europe are among those that have performed well, but what has been especially encouraging is that some of our newer offices – for example in Indonesia and Morocco – also generated a profit in their first year of operation.

This touches on our focus on globalisation. We invested heavily when other firms chose not to do so. We’ve now opened 14 new offices in the last five years. Over that period, our turnover and profits have increased by double-digit growth. The strategy of opening more offices in a measured way in the right places using the right people is definitely bearing fruit.

With respect to the recruitment market, the message we're giving is that there are real opportunities here, not only in London but across our international network. We're now beginning to see trainees qualify into offices outside London, which is great for our business. They're doing so because it's their preference, and those offices are now large enough to give our newly-qualified lawyers great deal experience. I’m delighted that our growing international focus is attractive to both our student audience and trainee population. When I stand up on campus and say we're truly international, I’m encouraged by the positive response from the large number of people who want to embrace that kind of experience.

SG: Many new offices have opened in recent years. Are there any new ones in the works? Are you still focusing on expanding in Asia and Africa?  

RH: With any growth strategy there's typically a time for pause, and for Allen & Overy that time is now. I imagine the next year or so will be a period of consolidation. We opened in Vietnam last year, and that operation will hopefully grow. Indeed, some of our Asian offices, including those in mainland China, need some building out in order to provide a full service to our clients. India remains a tough market to enter, largely because there's no immediate sign of the market opening up to international firms. We stopped our exclusive referral arrangement there because neither firm needed to be tied to one another in a market where a merger wasn't a likely option in the near term. Still, India's a very important market to us and one in which we hope to develop our business.

SG: Are there any goals in mind for the firm with respect to size? Do you see the firm continuing to open new offices and expand regularly?  

RH: I don't see the upcoming period of consolidation going on for more than a year or so. If our clients are doing business in a part of the world where it's important for us to be present, then being the truly client-facing organisation that we are we'd certainly consider opening there. Now that we've got an office in Northern Africa, where project finance is a key area of business, we might explore other areas of Africa and South America too.

SG: The firm's international angle is a huge draw for trainees, many of whom sit in overseas offices. However, some trainees suggested there have been a few cut-backs on this front. Are opportunities to go abroad slowing down?  

RH: I would say it's been pretty much business as usual on this front. The overseas opportunities fluctuate according to business need and, importantly, the quality of the training experience. We don’t ask trainees to spend time in non-London offices just for the sake of it. Take Sydney, for example – because the Australian M&A market was challenging in 2012, we had no reason to send trainees to Sydney last year. The nature of our business is such that some places are busier than others, and we respond accordingly. In fact, a positive about choosing an international seat here is the knowledge that the firm only really offers international opportunities in busy markets, so you're guaranteed worthwhile work during your secondment.

What also might account for fewer opportunities in the past is our slightly declining trainee population. We're gravitating towards a population of 90 trainees per year. When you consider that 45 trainees will be going into their final seat at any one time and there are around 40 secondment opportunities– either to clients or overseas – it's clear trainees who want to go on secondment have a good opportunity to do so. Last year we had 40 or so go on secondment – about 28 of those trainees went to overseas seats, and the other dozen went in-house with clients, with many doing corporate and financial institutions work.

SG: What makes an ideal trainee? A&O obviously comprises a wide range of backgrounds, so what stands out for you?  

RH: From a trainer's perspective, what's helpful and impressive to us is a trainee who is a self-starter. Some people take some of their first seat to get into the fabric of the firm and our business, which I can accept. But a top-quality trainee hits the ground running and is hungry for high-quality work and client exposure from day one. If you grab your training contract with both hands, you will not only work out what type of lawyer you want to be but also gain plenty of experience to allow you to approach qualification with confidence.

The people who impress us the most aren't fazed in terms of technical challenges or being put in front of clients; they take all the opportunities they can to grow. These are usually the people who have other aspects to their life beyond work – that dynamic makes them more well-rounded as a person and means they have experience juggling a busy agenda. In a client-facing industry like ours, especially one that's increasingly competitive, the people who demonstrate a client-friendly or client-conducive mindset are the ones who distinguish themselves.

SG: Do you have any advice or words of wisdom for students who are interested in pursuing a TC with A&O?  

RH: A lot is said about experiencing a firm to get an indication of its culture and business. We're spending a lot of time this year expanding our social media offering in order to become more accessible to applicants. The traditional graduate recruitment brochure is still useful, but the content is gravitating more towards the online sphere. All of this is to say: use all of this the information sources available, but don't think you can get to know a firm through its online activity alone. Nothing replaces face-to-face interaction, however you can achieve it. We're a fairly transparent organisation, so make sure you come to one of our many office or university events to talk to us one-to-one. Maximising your ability to get to know us before you make an application, through our open day or vacation scheme opportunities for example, is one way of doing this. A vacation scheme is not the only way to familiarise yourself with a firm and to get a training contract – we retain half of our training contract offers for the external recruitment round.

A potted history of Allen & Overy

 

Every now and again, a senior partner at a distinguished old firm is hit by a sudden flush of nostalgia. Perhaps he passes a fresh-faced trainee in the corridor and is reminded of his own youth. ‘What larks I had!’ he thinks. ‘No cares and responsibility to weigh me down. No equity points to accrue or leadership battles to fight. The whole world ahead of me. What a joyous life that young trainee must lead! If only we could swap places…’ The trainee, meanwhile, is looking the other way and thinking: ‘It must be great to be a senior partner! You can do what you like. No qualification worries, no sucking up to superiors. If only we could swap places…’

Anyway, the usual upshot of all this is that the senior partner gets to thinking about his own training back in the pre-BlackBerry age, his old supervisor ‘Spiffy’ Jenkins, the pretty secretary who became his wife etc., and decides that it’s about time someone wrote down what life was like at the firm in the good old days before everyone who remembers it has died out. A book is commissioned and sits proudly in the firm’s library, where nobody reads it.

Except us.

Some years ago we procured a copy of Allen & Overy: The Firm 1930 – 1998, a 105-page history by lawyer-turned-journo Humphrey Keenlyside. It’s a lot shorter than A History of Freshfields (which you can find reviewed elsewhere on this site) because A&O is much younger. This is all to the good because it means A&O: The Firm is less reliant on centuries-old documents and instead has plenty of anecdotes and information about the founding partners and big characters from people who knew them personally. It’s actually quite entertaining.

Here’s a summary of the best bits.

Inauspicious beginnings: the founding of A&O 

On the last weekend of 1929, two men dashed from their old firm, Roney & Co, with a cab full of client files. One was the darkly handsome George Allen; the other Tom Overy, who had the sort of face that scares small children. Their personalities were as different as their appearances. Allen was an austere, tidy man who “rarely smiled, and if he did, it looked like a forced smile.” By contrast, Overy was warm and approachable, had a “puckish” sense of humour and his desk was a mess, “piled high with papers.”  

It’s possible the two men left Roney & Co because they were effectively carrying the rest of the partnership (it was later claimed that the pair were doing 80% of the work for 20% of the profits), but there was little prospect of them progressing as equity partnership status at Roney was only available to family members. But that was not uncommon in those days, and a more mundane reason for their departure might simply be that Sir Ernest Roney couldn’t afford to pay them their salaries.

The abdication crisis   

A&O’s reputation was solidified as a result of George Allen’s role as adviser to His Majesty during the abdication crisis of December 1936, when Edward VIII sought to marry divorcee Wallis Simpson.

The job came about through serendipity. During World War I Allen served in France and saved a wounded officer by dragging him to safety from the trenches. That officer was Walter Monckton, a leading barrister and founder of Monckton Chambers, which still exists today.

Monckton and Allen subsequently struck up a friendship, and it was this relationship that would give Allen & Overy its big break over a decade later. “One of Walter Monckton’s contacts from his days at Oxford was the then Prince of Wales. That connection resulted in Monckton being appointed legal adviser to the Prince in 1932. When asked by his royal client to recommend a personal solicitor, Monckton had no hesitation in suggesting George Allen. As events unfolded, the advice that George Allen was called upon to give turned out to be far more than the drafting of wills and the handling of property matters. He became one of King Edward VIII’s inner circle during the abdication crisis of December 1936.”

Allen was eventually needed to advise on the terms of possible Bills to be put before Parliament to allow the abdication to go through; to help with the drafting of the abdication speech; to help draft the agreement under which the Duke of Windsor (as he became) was to receive an income from the Crown or the Civil List; and to seek Counsel’s opinion on whether the Duke could legally be physically prevented from returning to the UK. At one point the King was on the telephone to Wallis Simpson and asked Allen to write on a piece of paper the exact words he should say to her. Sweet nothings were obviously not Allen’s forte. He suggested the King tell Simpson: “The only conditions on which I can stay here are if I renounce you for all time.”

Anyway, it all turned out for the best: “George Allen stood like a stone wall during our worst hours,” the couple would say later. “The story goes of the time when two articled clerks [the old name for trainees] were called upon to witness a document signed by Edward. While waiting nervously to perform this simple task, their hands became so sweaty that they rubbed them on the wall to dry them off. For years afterwards their dirty handprints remained as a stain on the wall. Even when the offices were decorated, the hand smudges were left, almost as a badge of honour.”  

The 1930s: the firm progresses 

Allen & Overy’s offices at Finch Lane gradually filled with new hires. Hours were reasonable: 9.45am to 6pm in the week, and to 1pm on Saturdays. It sounds like a pretty hard-working place all the same, though. Tom Overy’s favourite catchphrase was ‘Where would you be if I didn’t drive you?’“The two senior partners would have their underlings carry their bags for them – exactly ten paces in front… a young solicitor, Garth Wilkinson, was dismissed summarily by George Allen for choosing to play cricket one Saturday rather than coming to work; and one drink too many at lunchtime which resulted in him being late for a meeting with a client accounted for Raymond Shingles at the hands of Tom Overy in 1939.” Wilkinson went on to become ICI’s in-house lawyer in India, while Shingles eventually became a senior partner at Linklaters.

Exclusive: Tom Overy peed in sinks 

[When future senior partner Geoffrey Sammons] did start his articles it was a further year before he met George Allen, an encounter which took place in adjoining urinals. The conversation went thus: Allen: ‘What’s your name?’ Sammons: ‘Sammons, sir.’ Allen: ‘Oh, yes. I knew your father.’ End of conversation. The opportunities for meeting Tom Overy in the urinals were even fewer; it was his eccentric practice to use the washbasin in the wardrobe behind his desk.”  

There’s not a lot you can add to that really, is there?

The 1940s: post-war profitability   

Billings in 1947 were £100,000, half of which was pure profit. George Allen and Tom Overy earned nearly £12,000 that year, making them rich men at a time when you could live more than comfortably on £500 a year. The firm expanded from its original offices in Finch Lane into overflow buildings on Old Broad Street and Threadneedle Street. New royal clients came on board, among them the Duke of Kent, the Maharajah of Jaipur and the Princess of Bihar.

As Atlee’s new Labour government set about creating the welfare state and nationalising Britain’s core industries, A&O found itself negotiating for steel companies, shipbuilders, repairers and more.

The 1950s: the founders fall out   

It is quite possible that George Allen and Tom Overy were never particularly close personal friends, but they got on well as business partners. That is, until the summer of 1951, when the time came to draw up the conditions of their retirement and the future of the firm. Suffice it to say that the two had very different ideas on how things should be run, and what started as minor disagreements degenerated into bitter and personal attacks. They did end up making some kind of peace in 1953, but by then Allen was about to retire. He went on to set up his own consultancy, Gallan Consultations, but died just three years later.

Five years younger, Tom Overy carried on… and on… and on. “He started behaving strangely and unpredictably.” Fellow partners started to hint that it was time for him to retire, but Tom was oblivious. In November 1960,he suffered either a nervous breakdown or temporary mental illness and was certified under the Mental Health Act and taken to St Andrews Hospital, Northampton. In his absence,the partnership deed was re-executed, removing him from the ranks of the partnership.

On his return, Overy was distraught at this treatment, writing: “I am staggered by your attitude to me having suffered three and a half months’ great cruelty. I got away from Northampton expecting to receive the help of my partners. It is not money I want, it is merely a life that will continue my association with a firm I love and helped to found.” The reality, however, was that Tom Overy was no longer fit to work: “a sad end to a great career.” He died 13 years later at the age of 80.

The swinging 60s 

By 1960 A&O was known as one of the top firms of solicitors. In fact, the magic circle as we know it today was pretty complete: Slaughter and May, Linklaters & Paines, Freshfields and A&O were considered the big four. Links and Slaughters led the way for corporate work, but A&O had a good litigation practice. After Tom Overy’s retirement, a triumvirate of partners took over, though in reality only one of these called the shots. Jim Thomson was fiercely ambitious, an incredible client-winner and widely regarded as one of the finest commercial lawyers in the City.

The age of the generalist lawyer was ending, and carving out a niche was more in vogue. The focus in this era of the firm’s history was on the corporate side of the business. Two big client wins in the 60s were Rupert Murdoch’s News Group and The Grade Organisation. A&O helped Murdoch with his first acquisitions in the UK: News of the World and The Sun. At the close of 1969 the firm had 20 partners, a staff of 217 and five thriving departments: commercial; conveyancing; litigation; probate and trusts; and tax.

The 1970s: testing times   

A curious A&O policy saw the firm hire female solicitors from other firms but only take on male articled clerks. One applicant, whose first name was Jocelyn, got as far as interview only because A&O assumed she was a male Jocelyn. “She was rapidly ushered out and told the firm would put her in touch with a family law practice.” Charming.

A&O only got with the times and took on its first female articled clerk in 1971, after she “sent in an application letter, simply signing her name with her initials and not putting in ‘Miss’. It was assumed that the person applying was the son of [famous banker] Sir Julian Hodge. However, once she came to interview, the panel applauded her initiative and offered her articles.”

The unexpected death of Jim Thomson in 1971 sent shockwaves through the City and caused the chairman of one bank to predict: “That will be the end of Allen & Overy.” Nevertheless, the firm carried on, and the atmosphere softened under the new regime. “It no longer became out of place to continue to call a colleague by his first name after he had been made a partner.”  

It’s clear the 70s were a transitional period for A&O, as many of the old guard retired and a new generation came through. It was also the decade when the firm first started its international expansion, with an office in Dubai opening in 1978 to support the construction of many new airports springing up in the region. A Brussels office followed later that year.

The 1980s and 1990s: into the modern age  

The Thatcher government’s programme played to A&O’s strengths, with lawyers advising on many headline projects including the Channel Tunnel negotiations with the French and the development of Canary Wharf. The firm continued to prosper thanks to a boom in banking and international capital markets, and between 1976 and 1986 turnover increased from £3m to £20m. The firm also doubled in size between 1985 and 1990 as the network of international offices expanded further.

A new senior partner, Bill Tudor John, came to power in 1994 and shook things up once again. “A four-page memo from one of the partners setting out suggestions as to how he should conduct his senior partnership and demanding a response to no fewer than 27 points was swiftly returned with the words ‘f*** off’ scrawled on the top of the page.” The success of the business replaced the traditional character of the partnership as a top priority. In short how much money partners made became the most important thing. Five partners were shown the door, and others were warned they would follow if their performance did not improve. This was also the era when fee earners started to work longer and longer hours.

The book comes to an end in 1998. A sequel, A&O at 75, was published in 2005, but for now you’ll have to search that one out for yourself.

More fascinating facts from A&O: The Firm  

  • A&O lawyer ‘Gunboat’ Richmond Smith drafted the statutes of the Universities of York and Sussex.
  • When they started the firm, George Allen and Tom Overy agreed that they could each bring one son into the partnership. Unfortunately neither prospered. Philip Allen was not cut out for the law, only qualifying at the third attempt in 1951. He was made partner the same year but only stayed until 1955 before moving to the country to become a dairy farmer. Oxford graduate Tony Overy, on the other hadn, had a promising early career at the firm, acting for Mobil Oil and showing “astuteness and talent.” Still, he had a difficult relationship with his father, a painful war injury and may have been unavoidably caught up in the quarrel between his father and George Allen. He began a long and relentless slide into alcoholism. “The issue was, if not completely swept under the carpet, only indirectly tackled. The euphemism was, ‘Tony’s not in today.’”
  • A&O was at the heart of the first-ever major contested takeover in the UK: the ‘aluminium war’ of Christmas 1958. The firm was acting for Tube Investments, which in partnership with US company Reynolds Metals had its eye on British Aluminium. Its initial bid was rejected out of hand, but on the suggestion of Siegmund Warburg, a merchant banker acting on behalf of Reynolds, the partnership launched the previously untried strategy of buying British Aluminium shares on a large scale in the open market. By early 1959 the partnership had bought 80% of them. A&O’s fee for the case was £25,000, then the single biggest bill it had ever presented.
  • The distinctive Allen & Overy typeface has been in place for many years, but a logo designed in the 90s has since fallen out of favour.

Its very own LPC

 

Like its magic circle peers, this firm requires incoming trainees to attend a bespoke LPC. A&O’s is held at the University of Law’s Moorgate branch in London and is an accelerated course, lasting just six and half months. “It's a lot more intense than on the normal LPC,” participants told us, warning “you'll probably have to work most evenings and weekends to get all the reading and assignments done.” Still, the programme is “quite useful”– it focuses on A&O’s core practice areas of corporate, banking and international capital markets and uses real examples from past transactions to acclimatise trainees to the type of work they'll get their hands on once they start their contracts. “It's nice to show up already knowing what an A&O document looks like.” In addition to these tailored LPC sessions, future trainees also attend lectures and seminars delivered by A&O lawyers and visit the offices regularly to gain more familiarity with the firm's digs and employees.

Perhaps the best part of the A&O-sponsored LPC is the opportunity for future trainees to bond before joining the firm. “I was initially worried that spending time with A&O-bound trainees only would narrow down my social circle, but the benefits are clear – you establish a network from the beginning and avoid the awkward first day experience of not knowing who to eat lunch with.” For many, the foundations laid down their LPC year paved the way for long-lasting friendships. “To this day we spend a lot of time together outside of work – tons of people are roommates, and several of us have gone on holiday together.” 

Secondments with A&O

 

The opportunity to spend six months in a foreign office has always been a staple of an A&O training contract. “It's a huge draw and something most trainees look forward to,” sources agreed, estimating “at least three-quarters go on secondment, with the majority taking up seats abroad.” Few firms have a strong and integrated enough network to sustain this constant cycle of overseas seats, but then again A&O is hardly your average firm. We'd be remiss not to mention the whispers of late hinting cut-backs to the programme might be on the way, but the outlook among our interviewees remained positive. “They add and take away new ones all the time. Even if they become a little more competitive, the options will still be plentiful.” Recent destinations abroad include Moscow, Tokyo, Hong Kong and Paris. A handful of trainees are also sent in-house for client secondments each rotation.

The HR team lends a hand in helping trainees choose their destination. “There's an open evening hosted by those who've been on secondment so you can have an informal chat about the experience and what to expect. Then you make a bid for your top choices and chat through them with HR, who can let you know what your chances are of getting the ones you want.” Prospective secondees are expected to go in their last seat – though we heard of a few exceptions for those headed in-house – and are usually limited to practice areas they've already done. “You've also got to think about qualification – if you're planning to qualify into corporate, for example, you should be headed somewhere to do that kind of work.” We heard New York is big for ICM and litigation, while IP is hot in Paris and it's all about project finance in Dubai and Tokyo. Client secondments, on the other hand, tend to be banking or corporate-related.

On the whole language requirements aren't too strict for those going overseas. “I think Paris is the only place you have to be fluent; normally they just want you to know a bit of conversations, and you're given lessons before you go.” These language classes continue while trainees are abroad in order to encourage integration with their host offices.

Once seats are assigned, associates can kick back and leave the HR team to work their admin magic. “They sort our everything for you – we're put up all expenses paid, and the firm covers the bills on your flat in London and pays to move all your stuff. There's also a salary uplift – a daily supplement for living overseas. The idea is that no one should be any better or worse off than they are in London.” Sounds pretty cushy all round!

There's no better way to hear about individual secondments than straight from the horses' mouths. Here are some reviews from trainees in years past:

Tokyo 

“Being in Tokyo is like living the dream!” a source doing banking and corporate work told us, adding “the office is small and so different from London. There are only about 20 lawyers here, so my responsibilities have shot up through the roof.” Another told of getting involved with “a really interesting span of local and regional work, which gives you an unparalleled view into this market.” Despite the “massive culture shock” that living in Tokyo dishes up, “it's been such a positive experience. Luckily, you still feel connected to the A&O network, just from a different angle.”

Paris 

“My time here's been pretty challenging because the approach to litigation is very different than it is in England,” said one interviewee. “I don't get involved in too much drafting because of the translation issue, but I still deal with all the final stages of a document.” The perks of working in the City of Light are many, and we imagine living "two seconds away from the Champs de Elysée” ranks pretty highly on list. “I can see the Arc de Triomphe from my window! It's amazing having the firm pay for me to stay in a beautiful flat just three minutes from the the office.”

Amsterdam 

“I really love it. It's been the best bit of my training contract,” said one source. “I feel quite lucky with Amsterdam. It's a very easy place to be as there's not a big culture shock. We're very well supported – not thrown in the deep end – but you do get more responsibility that in London.” Socially, we heard the office puts on borrel drinks every Thursday – that's free drinks and deep fried cheese sessions. “There was a massive party in the new office, and a nice event on a boat called In and Out for new joiners and leavers. We also have drinks every Friday, It's been great!”  

Milan 

“In some places like France, Germany and Spain, the language is useful,” we're told. “Although the work is only ever in English, for general chit chat around the office it's nice to be able to engage beyond 'Ciao'.” Fortunately, “the firm is really good” about language courses, providing 12 hours of lessons plus a one-on-one session before jetting off. “It's really nice having another trainee here from London who I'm good friends with,” says one Milanese trainee. “There's a really informal vibe, and everyone is super nice. A senior lawyer took us skiing last weekend, and we went to the Milan marathon.” With so many distractions, trainees could almost forget that it's time to seriously buckle down. “You're a fourth seater, and the expectation is that you're willing and able to contribute something, rather than just ask questions all the time,” we're reminded.

Shanghai 

“I think it's smaller than Hong Kong and Beijing – we have a one floor office, and are a very close-knit group. There's a lot of interaction between myself and the partners, so it feels like there's very little hierarchy.” In terms of work, “there's a lot more back to basics research, and a few things based on Hong Kong law.” Socially, trainees tend to link up with their counterparts from other City firms. “I've met trainees from Clifford Chance, Freshfields, Linklaters and Norton Rose. I've made lifelong friends, we go out quite a lot.” If nothing else, they're a fantastic support network when adjusting to life in China –“even crossing the road feels like dicing with death!”

International bank  

According to an interviewee who'd worked on litigation matters for a big bank, “working in-house differs from your time at the firm in that you're expected to play more of a project management role. I found myself responsible for overseeing ten or 15 different matters at once rather than working on just a few cases at a time, as I did in my litigation seat.” As a result, “you pick up a lot of organisational skills that will no doubt help you back at the firm.”

Multinational company 

“Working here has been good fun. The firm represents the company in a number of IP issues, though my seat was mainly commercial. I went to court several times and got loads of responsibility.” Our source's stint out of the offices “really helped me see things from a different perspective. I had a lot of stuff thrown at me at once, and now I can appreciate things from both the firm's and client's perspective.”

We'll give the last word to the wise trainee who summarised thusly: “Wherever you go, it'll be amazing. The whole experience really is pretty epic.”  

Fact Box

Location: London

Number of UK partners/solicitors: 181/668

Total number of trainees: 190

Seats: 3 or 6 months long

Alternative seats: overseas seats, secondments

Extras: pro bono – Toynbee Hall Free Legal Advice Centre, Battersea Legal Advice Centre, Fair Trials International, Amicus and many others; language classes

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  • OutsourcingUK-wide (Band 2)
  • PartnershipUK-wide (Band 2)
  • PensionsLondon (Firms) (Band 1)
  • Pensions LitigationUK-wide (Band 4)
  • Private EquityUK-wide (Band 3)
  • ProjectsUK-wide (Band 1)
  • Public International LawLondon (Firms) (Band 3)
  • Real EstateLondon (Firms) (Band 4)
  • Real Estate FinanceLondon (Firms) (Band 1)
  • Real Estate LitigationLondon (Firms) (Band 4)
  • Restructuring/InsolvencyLondon (Firms) (Band 2)
  • Social HousingUK-wide (Band 2)
  • TaxLondon (Firms) (Band 2)
  • TelecommunicationsUK-wide (Band 3)
  • TransportUK-wide (Band 1)