Please note: Allen & Overy did not provide us with a full list of its trainees. The feature below is based on the experience of a select few.
Welcome to the only magic circle firm based in trendy Shoreditch.
All magic circle firms are the same, right? Every year here at the Student Guide we try our best to help you tell them apart. It's hard, we admit, so we asked Allen & Overy's trainees what they thought. “At the end of the day it came down to the people I met at presentations and on the vac scheme. I clicked and got on better with people here. Go to as many firm presentations as you can while you're a student,” one trainee advised. “At university it's hard to differentiate the firms,” another pointed out. “The work, clients and geographic reach seem the same. Largely it comes down to the people. I vac-schemed elsewhere and A&O is more friendly.” A third echoed: “All magic circle firms are fungible. You have to ask, 'Which has more senior associates barking at you late at night? Which has the most good eggs in it?'” How can you tell? One rookie remembered being taken for coffee after their vac scheme interview here and shown around the firm. “My interviewer gave me her business card – I emailed when I got a training contract and she took the time to email back to say well done. It felt like they did want to get to know me.” Trainees also dig A&O's location on the City's boundary next to trendy Shoreditch.
As fungible as these firms might appear, they're actually not identical. A&O may be up to its ears in top-tier Chambers UK rankings – as are the other four – but it does lean more towards the banking side than corporate, where Freshfields, Linklaters and Slaughters dominate. Our A&O interviewees highlighted Slaughters' relative lack of international operations and the stereotype of a tough, aggressive, Oxbridgey culture as its key differentiators from the rest of the pack – read our True Picture on Slaughters to assess if there's any truth in this (we also recommend you have a peek at our feature devoted to deciphering the differences between magic circle firms). 2014 saw A&O open new offices in Barcelona, Toronto and Johannesburg – the only magic circle firm now physically present in South Africa. It also confirmed plans to launch in South Korea. In fact, 71% of A&O's matters involve two countries or more and 25% involve at least five countries.
A&O enjoyed its sixth consecutive year of revenue and profit growth in 2014, up 4% to £1.28 billion and 7% to £570 million respectively. It acts for 87 of the Forbes top 100 companies and topped Thomson Reuters' 2014 transactions league table, advising clients on a heart-pounding $1.3 trillion worth of deals involving M&A, capital markets (debt and equity), loans and project finance during the year. That's a lot of late nights. (Clifford Chance came fourth with a mere $974 billion, Linklaters sixth with $869 billion, while Freshfields and Slaughters weren't in the top ten.) Trainees in the umbrella groups of international capital markets (ICM) and banking told us they were, in general, out of the office by 8pm, “but much later in the fortnight before a closing.” The hours vary in each of the sub-groups, so while a projects source had “often worked until 11pm during busier weeks,” a colleague in the “very busy” asset finance team usually worked “9am till midnight, or later.” For the hardest-core workers, sleeping pods exist – “tiny little hotel rooms, though without en suite!” However, most trainees don't use them, preferring to go home at silly o'clock in the morning instead.
Incoming first-years indicate preferences for their first seat, which is typically in one of the firm's core practices: banking, corporate, or ICM. “They will basically put you where they can.” Trainees will spend twelve months of their training contract in at least two of these areas. Litigation is also a major practice area for trainees. Before their second and third seats, trainees name a 'priority seat' that they'd love to do and a 'request seat' as a backup. The final seat is an overseas or client secondment, for the vast majority. Foreign postings include New York, Singapore, Hong Kong, Istanbul, Amsterdam and Dubai... to mention but a few. Selection is based on a trainee's prior experience, reviews and “soft skills like personality” to best suit each location. The trick to landing a placement abroad is not to be too specific practice-wise about what you ask for: list 'general corporate in New York' rather than a niche team which may not be able to accommodate you. If New York is full, there may be a corporate vacancy somewhere else. Would South Africa do instead?
Can you lend me a tenner (or half a billion)?
Many trainees like to do general banking ('global loans and real estate finance', called B1 in A&O speak) “for their first seat to get a good grounding. People towards the end of their training contract may want to do something more niche.” In banking “the hours are more demanding, the work less riveting.” The team handles “bank borrower type work for general corporate purposes – different to asset finance, which is acting for the banks. A lot was real estate – for example, finance for a shopping centre in Glasgow, or apartments on City Road” in London. Conditions precedent (CP) dominate juniors' lives in this seat: “we're in charge of managing them, providing certain documents, checking whose signatures are outstanding, keeping on top of things. You essentially run with a long checklist that needs doing before the bank can lend the money. I drafted smaller ancillary documents on my own for someone to review and assisted on loan agreements.” A notable recent banking deal was advising a consortium of Kenyan and international banks on $350 million of financing for a new 450-kilometre fuel pipeline from Mombasa to Nairobi – reflecting the trend of more deals in Africa financed by foreign lenders.
Banking isn't for everyone. “It's not really my thing but it would be silly to be at A&O and not do a banking seat. I didn't like it because it's very process-heavy – in a mature London market it's like a mass production line and there are set ways of doing everything.” Other banking subgroups include restructuring (B4 –“a good mix between transactional work and advisory”); global loans & leveraged finance (B3 – where trainees do “CP checklists, term sheets, and lots of drafting, like securities agreements” as well as corresponding with other parties); projects, energy and infrastructure (B5 –“It was very, very busy. Projects is split into two workstreams: the finance side, which is a lot bigger, and non-finance, dealing with things like regulation”); financial regulation ('regulatory, funds and financial products', B6 –“a lot of research, drafting, not precedent work: all new law. I went to client events and meetings. Regulation is quite hard to get your head around, and there's some crossover with ICM"); and structured and asset finance (B2).
ICM subteams are securitisation, the general securities group (GSG) and derivatives and structured finance (DSF). The work is “quite niche, all about bond issuance and their regulations. Lots of drafting and research, preparing memos and drafting emails for clients. Client contact increased more and more.” GSG is “very technical from day one, but interesting. My trainer took the time to explain everything, and took my comments on board.” Clients are mainly banks like Goldman Sachs, UBS and Barclays, huge corporations, and 'sovereigns' – entire countries, in other words.
Litigation is popular in some trainee intakes, but many people avoid it. Instead, they do a litigation course run by Nottingham Law School and 40 hours' voluntary work at Battersea Legal Advice Clinic or charity Toynbee Hall to satisfy the SRA requirements. A trainee in the litigation subgroup BFR (banking and financial regulation) seat actually enjoyed “being called at 11.30pm on a Friday night by a client.” Er, why? “Because they really needed help – compared to banking where late night tasks are seen as a necessary evil just to get them done.” Other sub-groups include employment and intellectual property. Elsewhere, CCG (the corporate and commercial group) is “a general group that does everything not picked up by the others. It's friendly, and the hours are better here (I leave around 7.30pm). Cases go on for quite a long time so tasks can last a while.” Responsibility levels and the type of work trainees do depend on the stage the litigation is at when they get involved, but broadly speaking it includes “a lot of correspondence, drafting emails, and research into how we might present the argument – Googling and reading through cases. Some say litigation is slow. It wasn't slow for me.”
Corporate subgroups include the popular C6 (private equity and oil and gas), which does “lots of M&A work. The scope for meeting clients is much better in corporate. In banking it's more unusual. This is because of the nature of corporate clients, who need more hand-holding: they're not as sophisticated as the banks who do transactions daily. It's nice to feel you're building relationships. I do tonnes of drafting, for example novations. As a trainee you have to manage things like signings.” In general M&A (C4), “the hours are up and down, but it's a cool team, really nice.” Trainees can expect to take charge of ancillary documentation: “I get those docs in from the other side, mark them up, then go back to them.” In one M&A highlight, A&O advised online gambling company 888 on its takeover bid for rival Bwin for just shy of £900 million (as we went to press this accepted offer was gazumped by another competitor, GVC). Meanwhile, an Amsterdam-based team along with lawyers from ten other offices advised TNT Express on its five-year business process outsourcing contract with Accenture, expected to deliver annual cost savings to TNT of €100–150 million.
Competition (C1) “is not a typical corporate group: it's more niche.” The “wide variety” of “very interesting” work encompasses “cartels, merger controls, Article 102 stuff. There's lots of research, and it uses more of your law degree than some other groups, like project finance, where you prepare documents that need to be signed. In banking you essentially look at loan documents all day.” One trainee, realistic about the slim chances of one day making partner at A&O, likes corporate because it opens up a wealth of future career options: for associates leaving A&O in a few years' time, “if you're a banking lawyer, you can only join a bank or maybe a private equity house. If you're a corporate lawyer and don't make partner, you can do anything.”
A&O hit the headlines in the legal press over the summer for hiking salaries by around £20,000 for every level from 1PQE to 3PQE. NQ salaries are up £12,000 to £78,500. While this is great PR for the firm, what's actually happening is that the annual bonus will now be paid in associates' monthly pay cheques instead. Nevertheless, sources were delighted that compensation “is up in real terms too – we're still beating the market.” A discretionary bonus on top of this will be available for exceptional performers, but it will be a bonus in the true sense of the word, not something everyone expects for hitting their performance targets.
In the past year, a new 'Trainee Townhall' initiative launched to enable trainees to raise burning issues. Every six months, “all trainees are invited to the auditorium in the basement. There may be a presentation by HR and the training principal, then there's a Q&A,” one explained. At the last session, trainees suggested having their own networking event with young friends at banking clients; hobnobbing drinkypoos in the firm's own bar, Lavanda, have now been organised. This year's trainee summer ball was at the RSA (the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce), just off the Strand. At £75 a head it was “expensive” but fun: the masquerade theme meant “everyone brought masks though not many wore them!” In 2015, A&O retained 81 out of a total of 90 qualifiers (March and autumn combined).
Two more things that differentiate A&O are a subsidised onsite bar, Lavanda, and Square One, its very own tenth floor restaurant with “nice outdoor seating.” Compared to rival firms: “I prefer our offices – the roof terrace is such a plus in the summer, we've got our own bar, and the location – right next to Shoreditch – is amazing.”
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How to get into A&O
Vacation schemes (2016) deadline: 31 December 2015 (spring and summer)
Training contract (2018/19) deadline: 31 December 2015 (law and non-law)
Open days deadline: 29 February 2016 (opens 1 January 2016)
A&O First deadline : 29 February 2016 (opens 1 January 2016)
A&O receives around 5,000 applications across all its schemes: A&O First, open days, vacation schemes and the training contract. A&O First is an initiative for first-year undergrads (law and non-law), providing ongoing contact with the firm in the form of office visits, webinars and trainee 'buddies'. “If it works for the students and us it's the start of our relationship with them,” says graduate recruitment partner Claire Wright. “Many go on to do a vacation scheme and then the training contact.” The application involves “just an online application form, as it would disrupt students if we did more than that.” Separate to A&O First are open days for anyone to attend, which include talks, workshops, and work shadowing opportunities.
Over 2,000 candidates typically apply for the 45 to 50 places on A&O's summer vacation scheme (there's a winter one too). Screening of the completed online application forms is done manually, and recruiters look for evidence of a clear interest in the law, some commercial awareness, and why a candidate is applying A&O. Be sure to tailor your application: many people still send in standardised applications that could equally be sent to Linklaters, for example. Take our word for it: recruiters absolutely hate this and are guaranteed not to send your application to the next stage if you send them a generic boilerplate.
The assessment centre
The assessment centre consists of two interviews, a competency interview followed by a case study interview (with a partner). Each lasts about an hour. For the case study, you're given a folder of information containing, perhaps, a short legal document, or a meeting note, an email or a press cutting. It's generally about a transaction – an M&A deal or a financing, for example. A scenario might be that your partner has been called into a meeting so you've got to take over and meet the client on your own. You've got about half an hour to identify the issues then give a short presentation to the 'client' (the partner-interviewer) on the issues you've spotted followed by a discussion. “It's not a legal test,” recruiting partner Claire Wright points out. “We're testing the ability to assimilate a lot of information, order your thoughts, presentation skills to a client/partner, and commercial awareness. We don't expect you to know legal and technical language like 'indemnity' or 'conditions precedent'. Your solutions don't need to be couched in legal or technical terms, and therefore candidates with a non-law background are certainly not at a disadvantage.” In recent years our interviewees have been split roughly 50/50 between those with a law degree and those who did non-law. Our interviewee pool has also contained individuals who went to non-Russell Group and non-Redbrick universities.
The training contract assessment day is the same format as the vac scheme process (two interviews), and it's identical for people who've done the vacation scheme and those that haven't. How can a candidate really impress at interview? “Show vigour, enthusiasm, attack the subject matter, offer a solution, even if it's not feasible! Clients need to know how to solve the issue. Be prepared to address all issues. Clients face all sorts of issues – for example, commercial, financial, reputational, political, not just legal. There are hints in the case study notes about this. Also, show you're calm under pressure, can order your thoughts in a coherent fashion, and can absorb lots of information.”
The magic circle uncovered
Read our feature on magic circle law firms to discover what makes these five big London legal beasts distinct from the rest of the market and distinct from each other.
Allen & Overy LLP
One Bishops Square,
- Partners 525 worldwide
- Associates 2,304 worldwide
- London trainees 180
- Contact email@example.com
- Facebook: www.facebook.com/AllenOveryGrads
- Twitter: @allenoverygrads
- Method of application Online application form
- Selection procedure Two interviews
- Closing date for 2018 31 December 2015
- Training contracts p.a. 90
- Applications p.a. 2,500
- % interviewed p.a. 10%
- Required degree grade 2:1 (or equivalent)
- Training salary
- 1st year£42,000,
- 2nd year£47,000
- Holiday entitlement 25 days
- % of trainees with a non-law degree p.a. 50%
- No. of seats available in international offices 36 seats twice a year; 9 client secondments
- Post-qualification salary £78,500 (2015)
- % of trainees offered job on qualification 90% (2015)
- International offices Abu Dhabi, Amsterdam, Antwerp, Bangkok, Barcelona, Beijing, Belfast, Bratislava, Brussels, Budapest, Bucharest*, Casablanca, Doha, Dubai, Dusseldorf, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Hong Kong, Istanbul, Jakarta*, Johannesburg, London, Luxembourg, Madrid, Milan, Moscow, Munich, New York, Paris, Perth, Prague, Riyadh*, Rome, Sao Paulo, Shanghai, Singapore, Sydney, Tokyo, Toronto, Warsaw, Washington DC, Yangon.
- *associated office