Arnold & Porter (UK) LLP - True Picture

This US native has a tiny trainee cohort and a huge pile of pharma work.

Double helix

Arnold & Porter is doubling its trainee intake; instead of taking two trainees every two years, the firm is now welcoming a new duo every September. The aim is to “promote organic growth” according to training principal Tom Fox. The London outpost of this Washington DC-headquartered firm was “built around life sciences and pharma work,” one junior source explained. “And now we're growing because London acts as the gateway to Europe for a lot of our US clients.” Another interviewee elaborated: “We want to bolster the areas we're known for but invest in areas outside life sciences too.” These other areas include white-collar crime, international arbitration and litigation.

Because of A&P's life sciences bent, our interviewees reckon it helps if training contract applicants have a “real focus on why they want to work here. You need to know what we do, where we do it, who we work with and why you want to do that too. This is not your standard all-service firm where you can rock up and try everything.” At the time of our calls, three of the four NQs and trainees had come to the firm off the back of a science degree or experience in a scientific industry. “I wanted a firm where I could use my background,” one source said. But you don't necessarily need to be Britain's answer to Bill Nye the Science Guy to get a training contract here – Tom Fox notes: "We absolutely welcome people with degrees in any subject. Many of our practice areas are not wholly science-based, such as white-collar crime, corporate and international arbitration."

“A real focus on why they want to work here."

Every trainee passes through the corporate and life sciences departments but there are four other seats on offer too: IP, white collar, arbitration and competition. We're also told “you're not stuck in one department” and trainees find themselves “doing odd jobs when other groups need help.” Seat allocation is decided based on business need before each seat move. When it comes to qualification, life sciences and IP snap up most NQs; since 2006 all ten qualifying trainees have been retained.

Pharma chameleon

Pharma giants Pfizer, GlaxoSmithKline, AstraZeneca and Gilead are all clients of A&P's life sciences department. The group has long been the firm's stand-out practice in the UK; for six years running it's earned the highest ranking Chambers UK can bestow for its work on regulatory, product liability and general life sciences matters.

“It's quite an academic group,” one interviewee felt, with plenty of research and memo writing surrounding things like regulatory and compliance advice for companies in the UK and EU or multi-jurisdictional surveys for US companies looking to move into Europe. The team also handles regulatory litigation, recently representing the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry and pharma companies Pfizer, Merck Serono and Bayer in separate cases against the Department of Health concerning the pricing of medicines in the UK. Major cases concerning life-long injury or even death caused by medical products dominate the product liability side of things. Take the firm's recent defence of GlaxoSmithKline after allegations emerged that its diabetes product Avandia caused heart attacks and cardiovascular problems.

Life sciences and pharma clients – the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry for one – leak into the corporate practice where the firm handles acquisitions for companies in this industry. A&P's pretty tight lipped about most of the mid-market deals it works on but we have found this snippet for you: the team recently advised Merck Serono as an investor in Canbex Therapeutics (which produces medication for MS) on the latter's acquisition by French pharma company Ipsen.

Sitting comfortably alongside the life sciences and pharma clients in corporate you'll find companies like educational tour provider WorldStrides, retail group McArthuerGlen, tech investors Armour and Atlanta-based IT outfit Numerex. “Clients range from the very big all the way through to smaller enterprises, so there is more contact with them in corporate than in other seats,” sources told us. “We also do company secretarial work for a few small businesses: a trainee usually handles that too.” Aside from this trainees deal with the drafting of board minutes and other ancillary documents, due diligence and preparations for completions.

Plant life

There are no prizes for guessing which recurring sector rocks up again in IP – pharmaceutical big guns GlaxoSmithKline and Pfizer are both clients of the department. There is also a smattering of clients from industries including car manufacturing (Tesla), television (ITV) and chemicals (DuPont). IP trainees have the chance to work on both litigation and transactional matters; dabbling in the latter, trainees review contracts and write memos on data protection issues. Contentious matters include patent and trade mark disputes. For example, the firm helped AstraZeneca pursue patent infringement proceedings against rivals Teva for producing a generic version of AstraZeneca's Symbicort inhaler. “I conducted research into various possible IP infringements and agreements,” one trainee reported. “I also drafted letters, and sat in on meetings with QCs and partners; it's such a good insight and you learn so much – even if they're not speaking to you!”

“Everyone here is scarily intelligent.” 

“People think working in an American firm will be hell,” one trainee admitted, “but it's been very good.” Our sources tended to clock off between 7pm and 8pm and late nights aren't common. Those who had pulled a late one sometimes found themselves the only person left on their floor. "It's reassuring that people do have a life outside of work,” reflected one trainee, but that fact does have an impact on the social life at A&P: “People work pretty hard and want to head home to see family and friends at the end of the day” rather than socialising with colleagues. “We don't have a drinking contingent who always want to go out,” added another source. The firm's social committee does put on things like wine tastings and pub quizzes every few months though. Thursday evenings honour a tradition imported from Washington DC: weekly drinks in the firm's Garden Room (although London's equivalent of DC's roof terrace is just a conference room with a lone potted plant). That's about it for US imports –“we don't really feel like a US firm," said one interviewee. "The culture is very much British.”

With just shy of 50 lawyers in the London office, “everyone knows everyone” while the tiny trainee intake means “people genuinely want you to do well." Partners are “approachable and amenable to trainees; you can wander into any office and ask a question. They invest their time in you; you don't just fade into the background.” The firm's City offices in Tower 42 have floor-to-ceiling windows “so it's a bit hair-raising if you're scared of heights” – although you do get a bird's eye view of the Gherkin and St Paul's. Trainees share an office with their supervisor; however, “as the teams are so small it's kind of like everyone is supervising you really. Although it's usually my supervisor I'll go to if I have any moronic questions.” But we'd imagine the stupid questions are rare, since “everyone here is scarily intelligent,” although we're assured they're “modest about it.”

The firm puts a “huge emphasis” on getting its lawyers to do pro bono work especially for trainees and junior associates.

How to get an Arnold & Porter training contract


Vacation scheme deadline: 5 March 2017

Training contract deadline: 31 July 2017


The firm generally receives around 300 applications for the eight 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 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. We're told this is a basic chat, takes place with the training principal Tom Fox and a senior associate, and involves no problem-solving exercises or written assessments.

Meanwhile, training contract applicants who pass muster – usually around 20 – are also invited to attend an interview, again with Tom Fox and a senior associate. Applicants are asked to allow up to three hours for this interview. “We give them a legal problem to review,” says graduate recruitment coordinator Lisa 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.” Interviewers then go on to discuss the candidate's CV, application and expectations for a training contract at A&P. 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.”

Vacation scheme 

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 the business. 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 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, towards the end of the two weeks, vac schemers are given a topic and tasked with formulating a group presentation.

The vac scheme concludes with an exit interview with Fox and a senior associate for those who'd like to be considered for a training contract. “Generally, we don't interview them again after that as we've already had a lot of exposure to them throughout the vac scheme as well as the exit interview,” Cadzow says.

We chat with training principal Tom Fox about A&P's small trainee cohort

Student Guide: The firm's now taking on two trainees every year instead of every other year. What was the reason behind that decision?

Tom Fox: It's to promote organic growth and because of our growing workload in all practice areas. But we also recognise that to the raise our profile among students and attract the best applicants we need to be on their radar. We're in a better place to achieve that if we take on trainees every year.

SG: What are the benefits of being part of such a small cohort?

TF: A small group helps trainees to immediately feel part of the team; they get more partner time and greater access to clients than might normally be expected.

SG: Over the years a large proportion of your trainees have had science degrees or have previously worked in a scientific industry. Are you open to those who haven't gone down this path?

TF: We absolutely welcome people with degrees in any subject. Many of our practice areas are not wholly science-based - such as white-collar crime, corporate and international arbitration. Because of our specialism and focus on life sciences, we do tend to attract a lot of people with those interests but it is not essential for all applicants. In the past we've tended to take on one candidate with a scientific background and one with other interests, for example in general litigation. We don't exclusively favour people with an interest in science. Going forward, if we're going to have two trainees every year more of our departments are going to have to be geared up to take trainees so we certainly can’t just employ candidates with an interest in life sciences.

SG: What sort of person thrives at the firm?

TF: Self starters. You can't sit in your office and wait for people to come and spoon feed you here. We encourage our vacation scheme students and trainees to go round, show their faces and ask people if they can help on projects. One of the best things our trainees can do in their training contract is to pick up work that way. The type of person who does well tends to volunteer and seek assignments elsewhere, including outside of their department if they are not busy.

SG: We heard from trainees that pro bono was really encouraged at the firm. Why is that?

TF: Everyone is strongly encouraged to get involved with pro bono no matter how junior or senior they are; pro bono is a fact of life at Arnold & Porter. In the US the firm has a longstanding commitment to pro bono and that applies in the non-US offices too. It's particularly good for training and we encourage our trainees to do it. Pro bono takes them out of the area they're working in all day and out of their comfort zone. It's an essential part of the trainee experience.

Arnold & Porter (UK) LLP

Tower 42, 25 Old Broad Street,

  • Partners 19
  • Assistant solicitors 27
  • Total trainees 2
  • Contact Graduate recruitment
  • Email
  • Website:
  • Method of application Apply via website
  • Selection procedure Interview with partners and associates; written assessment
  • Closing date for 2019 30 July 2017
  • Training contracts pa 2
  • Applications pa 700
  • % interviewed 2%
  • Required degree grade 2:1
  • Training salary 
  • First year: £43,000
  • Second year: TBC
  • Holiday entitlement 25 days
  • % of trainees offered job on qualification 100%
  • Overseas offices London, Washington DC, New York, Los Angeles, Denver, Houston, San Francisco, Silicon Valley, Brussels

Firm profile

Arnold & Porter is a US-based firm with a deserved reputation for its quality of service and expertise in handling the most complex legal and business problems requiring innovative and practical solutions. The firm’s global reach, experience and deep knowledge allows it to work across geographic, cultural, technological and ideological borders, serving clients whose business needs require US, EU or cross-border regulatory, litigation and transactional services.

Main areas of work

The London office is home to the firm’s European regulatory, life sciences, commercial litigation, IP, competition, corporate, financial services, white collar crime, international arbitration, commercial litigation, employment and telecoms practices. Chambers UK recently ranked its London office as a top-ranked leading firm in EU Competition, intellectual property, media and entertainment, corporate: M&A, life sciences, product liability, telecommunications and retail.

Trainee profile

The firm looks for talented law and non-law graduates from all backgrounds who share the firm’s commitment to excellence, and want to be part of the continued growth of its London office. Candidates need to demonstrate a consistently high academic background; the firm looks for well-rounded individuals who can demonstrate their participation in a range of extra-curricular activities and achievements.

Training environment

Four six-month seats: life sciences and healthcare regulatory, IP, corporate and securities, financial services, competition, international arbitration or white collar crime. The firm encourages individuals to work across specialisms and emphasises teamwork, so trainees may find that whilst they are working in one group, they undertake work in a variety of different areas throughout the firm. Trainees will be expected to work on several matters at once, and assume responsibility at an early stage. Trainees may also have an opportunity to work in the firm’s Brussels office and where the occasion permits, to work on projects in one of the firm’s US offices. An important aspect of the firm’s culture is its commitment to pro bono. Trainees and all lawyers at the firm are encouraged to take part and devote 15% of their time to it, which helps young lawyers develop client management skills from an early stage.

Vacation schemes

The firm takes around 10 summer vacation students each recruiting year. Whether you are a law or non-law student, the firm will introduce you to life in a busy City law firm, spending two weeks working on a variety of projects and workshops with partners and associates throughout the London office. Apply via the firm’s website by 5 March 2017.


Healthy incentive bonus, Christmas bonus, child care vouchers, private health insurance, private dental insurance, life assurance, season ticket loan.

Sponsorship and awards

GDL/LPC: fees paid; £8,000 per course maintenance.