Baker McKenzie* has got more offices that you can shake a stick at, and continues to branch out; in case you haven't twigged, it's a great place for "an international perspective on the law."
With over 13,000 employees across 77 offices in 47 countries, it should come as no surprise that life and work at this global giant will be a tad multinational. London is the largest office and stands as a regional hub. And in expanding so convincingly, it's reassuring to know that Baker Mac hasn't compromised on quality; a glance at the Chambers Global Top 30 will show Baker there ranked as the world's second most able global firm. As one trainee remarked, “it would be very peculiar if a transaction or dispute here involved purely the London office." As a result, trainees "get an international perspective on the law and how things operate commercially in different jurisdictions.” Examples of this can be found among London's recent work highlights: the firm advised US agricultural trading company Cargill on its $1.5 billion acquisition of EWOS, a global fish feed supplier operating in Norway, Scotland, Vietnam, Canada and Chile. It is also currently acting for the Korea Electric Power Corporation on project financing for a $30 billion nuclear power plant in the UAE.
Founded in Chicago in 1949, Baker Mac opened its London digs in 1961. While having at first built a name for itself in the corporate and banking spheres, the London office today provides a much wider array of legal services, and has nearly 40 Chambers UK rankings to show for it. The firm wins recognition for high-end corporate and litigation work and scores a clutch of banking and capital markets rankings, plus top-tier recognition for telecoms, outsourcing, administrative law and employment work.
"It's not as scary as I thought it would be!”
Given its size and the high-profile work being conducted, you'd be forgiven for expecting Baker Mac to be a fairly daunting and even faceless place to work. Not so, say our sources. Despite the sizeable trainee intake of 30 a year, “you don't feel as though you're being treated like cattle, and the firm goes out of its way to let you know what's expected of you and what resources are available.” Another interviewee gushed: “I wish I had known I was coming to work somewhere that was so supportive. It's not as scary as I thought it would be!” Perhaps the firm's Swiss Verein structure, which allows each office location to run its own affairs, helps keep bureaucracy to a minimum and promotes a more individual-focused culture.
Trainees are guaranteed at least one of their 'preference seats' over the course of the contract, and for the other three they list their top three choices before each rotation. We were assured that “generally the vast majority of trainees get to do one of those three preferences,” although there's no guarantee of this. Our interviewees seemed fairly satisfied with this system, although we did hear a few gripes. “There could be a bit more transparency about how allocation works and what's feasible,” one trainee commented. “Everyone understands that you can't always get what you want, but it would be useful to know which departments need a trainee – that way you're likely to be more accepting if things don't work out.” All trainees must do a transactional seat at some point, though this can mean spending time in banking or structured capital markets as well as some of the options in corporate.
The firm's corporate department is split into subgroups including M&A, private equity and funds, corporate finance, and energy, mining and infrastructure. It's worked on some mammoth multinational deals of late. For example, Baker Mac recently advised Boston private equity firm Bain Capital on the $3.1 billion sale of the UK's Brakes Group to multinational food distributors Sysco. It also acted for US data company Equinix on the financing and restructuring of its $3.6 billion takeover of European datacentre firm TelecityGroup, which involved a total of 11 jurisdictions. Those who had done a seat in M&A said they've been involved in “a lot of reorganisation and disposal work” and that there was a large amount of crossover with the work of other departments. “I learned a lot about pharmaceutical law and regulation," one told us, "and I worked with the banking, finance, IP, and employment departments.” Trainees take on an organisational role in this seat, managing teams across various offices and making sure updates are communicated between them. “This gives you the opportunity to learn about regulations in different jurisdictions around the world,” remarked one interviewee.
Baker & McKenzie's private equity and funds department has a reputation for conducting large multi-country private equity investments and exits, with particular strengths in areas including infrastructure, natural resources and energy, and healthcare. The firm recently advised private equity investors Capital International, The Rohatyn Group and Ethemba Capital on the $800 million sale of Egyptian drug company Amoun Pharmaceutical. Trainees who had worked in this team told us that “you get exposure to all the corporate subgroups. In particular there's a lot of work with the energy and infrastructure team.” On a day-to-day basis the work is “quite document-heavy," a trainee reported. "I was mostly using templates to produce standard corporate documents, and amending them to fit various situations.”
If you still have the energy
The energy, mining and infrastructure group is divided into two strands of work: “There's M&A involving infrastructure assets like wind farms or power stations" and there's project work, "which involves setting up long-term projects and handling agreements with the government and organisations like National Grid.” Sources informed us that the developing market in Africa is a particular focus for this team: Baker Mac is currently acting as project counsel on the $10 billion Sonaref refinery project in Angola, and advising the state-owned electricity and water utility company of Morocco on two wind farm projects with a combined value of $2 billion. Trainees who had sat here described doing a lot of research, in particular into “obscure bits of contract law, to see if we could get the result we wanted.” Others mentioned getting the chance to draft ancillary documents for new contracts. The hours in the corporate department can be demanding: an average day for a trainee is 12 hours, and working into the early morning is to be expected at busy times. “The hours can be horrible on some occasions,” admitted one source. “There was one deal I got landed with for which I did a couple of all-nighters in a row – that wasn't nice!”
“There are so many things you can learn about!”
Interviewees who had worked in the EU, competition and trade department reported working on competition matters including merger control filings and representing companies subject to cartel investigations. The trade side involves sanctions, customs, anti-bribery and corruption-related work. “There are so many things you can learn about!” one source exclaimed, telling us that the seat involves “a lot of advisory work to ensure that proposed transactional arrangements don't violate competition rules. Trainees are involved in going through company data looking at all the financial details.” Clients of the department include Carlsberg, British Airways, Virgin Media and EDF Energy. And Baker Mac recently advised Mitsubishi Electric in its appeal to the General Court of the European Union against a €113 million fine imposed by the European Commission for participation in an electrical equipment cartel.
The firm's dispute resolution department is divided into subgroups including business crime and fraud, construction and project disputes, international arbitration and regulatory and public law. “I think that's why it's such a popular seat,” one trainee noted, “because it covers such a wide variety of areas, and you can get involved in all of them.” That said, the daily grind sounds somewhat less exciting as “there's a lot of document review.” Other tasks include attending hearings and assisting with putting together witness statements. Interviewees mentioned getting “plenty of client exposure." One said: "I was directly emailing the client's representative, and I was given a lot of responsibility when it came to managing the case.” The hours in the dispute resolution and competition seats were described as “more consistent” and “more lenient” than those in the corporate department. “I was usually out of the office between 7 and 8pm,” one trainee commented, “and on the rare occasions when things spilled over, I was encouraged to go home and finish my work from there.” The dispute resolution team recently advised Virgin Media during its involvement in the ITV and TVCatchup case in the Court of Appeal and helped Associated Newspapers – publishers of MailOnline – defend a data protection and privacy claim brought by Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis.
“There’s always someone who'll say hello.”
In their fourth seat Baker McKenzie trainees have the chance to jet off on an overseas seat. Currently on offer are positions in Sydney, Hong Kong, Johannesburg, Brussels, Madrid and New York. (This list is subject to change depending on business needs.) Usually an overseas seat lasts three months, though “some people end up staying longer if they're working on something which requires them to stay.” In order to bag a foreign foray, trainees have to draft a business case explaining why they think it would be useful for them to go. One interviewee advised that “you should really make it known early on that going abroad is on your radar.”
One word that kept popping up when we asked trainees about Baker Mac's culture was “nice.” When we asked for examples, one trainee told us: “Every time you get in the lift or go to lunch, there’s always someone who'll say hello and knows your name. The office isn't huge so you recognise lots of different people from across departments.” This atmosphere is encouraged by the fact that hard work is truly appreciated. “When you work late, everyone is very thankful,” one source told us, with another adding that feedback sessions “help you feel like your work has really been recognised and acknowledged.” On the topic of feedback, trainees have both mid-seat and end-of-seat reviews, although a few felt that “more ongoing feedback would be useful." As one source noted, "three months or six months into a seat, the comments can be a bit irrelevant; it would be more useful to have them sooner.”
Right up my Baker Street
The reported niceness of the culture goes hand in hand with a “really close” trainee intake. “You'll always see trainees having lunch together in the canteen, and we go out for drinks a lot too," said one trainee. "The trainee group forms a really good support network and you make genuine friendships too.” Socialising comes in the form of fancy lunches (one was held at the Shard), events at Bounce in Holborn, and Friday night drinks at The Blackfriar pub, a stone's throw from the firm's Thames-side location. Firm-sponsored events are also frequent affairs: beyond the usual Christmas party – held at Old Billingsgate Market in 2015 – Baker Mac also recently hosted a Caribbean event, which involved outside caterers and a steel drum band. “And for Chinese New Year we had some dragon performers!” chirped one interviewee.
We asked trainees if they felt there were any common traits among their cohort, and the response was generally “not really." One said: "We're not all from similar backgrounds – there's a lot of diversity.” At the time of our calls about half of trainees were women and the group was pretty decent for ethnic diversity too. While there wasn't anyone with a previous career among our interviewees, we did speak to graduates of several different disciplines including languages, history, politics and law. A Russell Group education was the norm. “There's a good mix of different people here,” summarised one source. “That's nice because you can sit together at lunch and hear about other people's passions.” In 2016, 29 out of 32 qualifiers were retained.
Baker Mac organises an annual firm-wide football tournament in a different city each year. It was in Brussels in 2016. “Over 30 offices participated and we had teams from Mexico, Dubai, Canada, the US, Spain..."
*In December 2016 the firm officially rebranded as 'Baker McKenzie', having previously been known as 'Baker & McKenzie'. It's a tiny difference, but make sure you drop the '&' when referring to the firm on applications.
How to get a Baker & McKenzie training contract
Vacation scheme deadline: 30 November 2016 (spring: grads and final year undergrads); 15 January 2017 (summer: second-year undergrads)
Training contract deadline: 31 December 2016 (grads and final-year undergrads); 31 July 2017 (penultimate-year undergrads)
In 2015 Baker & McKenzie received almost 1,300 applications for its 30 training contracts on offer. In addition, roughly 2,000 people applied for a place on one of the firm's vacation schemes.
The application process is the same for both types of applicants, and begins with an online application form and a ‘career motivation’ cover letter. “This should focus on their motivations for joining a commercial law firm and Baker & McKenzie in particular,” senior graduate recruitment and development officer Rebecca Ryalls tells us, adding that spelling the firm's name wrong, referring to it as American, or using a stock cover letter are all big no-nos.
“We like to see people write about personal experiences, which is much more powerful than repeating what's on our website or in the news,” she continues. “If you've met with a partner or spoken to a trainee at an event, for example, then use that to talk about why you find our firm appealing.”
Interviews and assessments
After applying online, candidates are asked to complete an online situational judgement and verbal reasoning test. This is followed by a strengths-based video interview.
From here, those who make the grade – vac scheme and training contract applicants alike – attend an assessment day that kicks off with a group exercise in which candidates work together to help improve a fictional client's service. “We interview as many non-law as we do law students, so there's not a lot of legal terminology involved,” Ryalls assures us. “Rather, it's about utilising commercial awareness.”
An interview with an associate, who quizzes participants on their CV and competencies, follows this, and then the day rounds off with a two-partner interview. Here candidates discuss a case study they were given 30 minutes prior, and also face general questions about their application and motivations.
Baker & McKenzie runs two vac schemes in the summer and one in the spring. The spring scheme lasts two weeks, while the summer ones last three. Participants visit two practice areas during their placement; these are chosen off the back of preferences submitted beforehand. The vac scheme includes talks from each department, networking lunches with partners and associates, and a Q&A session with the management committee, plus social outings like bowling nights and pizza-making classes.
All vac schemers have interview with a partner at the end of their visit. This takes the form of “a discussion about what they've been doing and how they found the placement,” according to Ryalls. “They aren't reassessed on the case study at this point.”
International vacation scheme
Baker Mac also runs international vacation schemes, which is unusual among law firms, even big international ones. These can run for eight to 12 weeks, and are split equally between London and one of the firm's international offices.
To nab a spot on an international scheme, candidates must highlight their interest on the application form and secure a place on one of the regular spring or summer schemes and subsequently accept a training contract place. Candidates then meet with Baker Mac's graduate recruitment partner to discuss why they are keen to go abroad as part of their vac scheme. The firm organises flights and accommodation for participants.
In addition to its vac schemes, Baker Mac runs three open days over the year for both law and non-law grads and undergrads. The day includes some skills workshops, a networking event and lunch with a group of lawyers. The firm also launched a programme for first-year students that sees them shadow lawyers, participate in workshops, network and attend sessions with the graduate recruitment team. Find out more about the firm's first-year programme here.
Understanding Swiss Vereins
It might sound like a particularly flaky piece of patisserie, but a Swiss Verein is made of much sturdier stuff. It's the international management structure behind the rapid expansion of global giants like Dentons, DLA Piper and Baker & McKenzie, three of the largest law firms in the world. The Verein also paved the way for the US-UK link-ups that formed Hogan Lovells in 2010 and Norton Rose Fulbright in 2013, thanks to the flexibility and independence it affords individual branches of multi-site law firms.
Baker Mac was the first major law firm to use the Swiss Verein structure, adopting it in 2004 – a bold move at a time when many other firms were converting merely to limited liability partnerships (LLPs). A Swiss Verein structure allows each international office of a law firm to remain independent and assume limited liability, which means offices are only responsible for their own debts and actions, not those of the firm at large. Whereas conventional mergers can be lengthy, complex and expensive, Swiss Verein tie-ups allow firms to expand fast: Baker Mac, for example, was able to open nine new offices between 2011 and 2014 alone.
The structure has a number of clear advantages for local firms looking to merge with international outfits. Firms can retain their own management, remuneration and accounting systems, as well as their own profits, but they also get the added benefits of being part of a global brand and strategy. This independence often means they're more closely tied to local business communities and able to reflect the business culture they operate in. It's also a handy way of expanding into areas with complex or cumbersome local regulations, especially China. Case in point: in November 2015, Dentons combined with Chinese legal powerhouse Dacheng, making it the world’s largest law firm by lawyer headcount.
While keeping profits separate is an attractive way for firms to minimise risk, it can also act as a disincentive for local offices to work together, cross-sell services and share clients. Law firms counteract this effect by attempting to spread administrative costs and profits. Baker Mac, for instance, introduced a central profit pool that awards bonuses to partners who develop relationships with 150 key international clients.
There have been a few dissenting murmurs as Vereins have grown in popularity. Some have pointed out that the structure was designed with voluntary organisations like church choirs and sports clubs in Switzerland in mind, not as a way for fast-growing multinationals to limit their liability. Others question the supremacy that firms like Dentons,Baker Mac and DLA Piper wield over top law firm statistics, suggesting that the Vereins' lack of financial integration means such firms shouldn't be seen as single law firms at all. There have also been accusations that some firms are converting to Vereins without both parties agreeing on exactly how much integration will follow. Indeed, Norton Rose Fulbright's American partners in Dubai threatened mutiny over post-Verein attempts to standardise pay and profit handling.
Baker Mac has made the Verein structure work through its lightness of touch, letting local offices set pay rates and structures and offering sweet incentives for integration rather than enforcing it from above. In a tough global market, clubbing together across national boundaries is a tempting way for firms to bulk up, though it remains to be seen whether this tasty trend will have a long shelf life.
Interview with training principal Arron Slocombe
Student Guide: What have been the highlights at Baker & McKenzie over the past year?
Arron Slocombe: It's been a really great year for us, particularly in terms of deals and diversification. On the deals side there's quite a long list; we advised FedEx on its $4 billion TNT bid, we acted for Deloitte on the restructuring and resale of the Gherkin, and we're advising Bain Capital on the $3.1 billion sale of the Brakes Group, so there has been a large range of high-value deals going on.
It's also been a big year in terms of lateral hires, particularly in the disputes, corporate, data protection and tax departments. In disputes, we saw three lateral hires at partner level, and in data protection we brought in a new partner. Data protection is an area that is going to get even busier given the new laws coming in in this area; cybersecurity is a really big issue at the top of our clients' lists.
SG: What should students know about Baker & McKenzie's London strategy and where the firm will be in two or three years?
AS: I think we'll be bigger; we're making real investment in the key financial centres – with London being core to that – as well as New York and China. In the next few years we see ourselves being one of a small number of genuinely global law firms offering the most interesting, challenging work on a fully global basis. I think the market will segment a bit in terms of the different strands; there will be a small group of truly international firms, as well as some smaller boutique firms for specialist areas, and a number that are more on the day-to-day level, but not quite in the same market that we're in.
SG: Despite the large size of the firm, trainees really felt that they were getting the individual training, support and advice they needed. What from your point of view is Baker & McKenzie doing to help promote this culture?
AS: I'd like to think the real focus we have from the top down is on diversity, inclusion and being able to be yourself. That gives our lawyers the confidence to be their best, to try out new ideas in an environment where we invest a huge amount in both formal, structured training but also in mentoring and adopting a coaching philosophy to training and development. We have a deep commitment to feedback and being honest, through an approach that is very much focused on an individual's development. We make the training tools and resources available and let individuals take control of them with help from the big support network within the organisation.
SG: What qualities make the ideal Baker & McKenzie candidate?
AS: We don't have a model candidate, and I think that goes hand in hand with our focus on diversity and inclusion. We want the widest range of ideas and experience, which means we need a wide range of candidates and trainees from all sorts of backgrounds and experiences. We want our trainees to be confident and insightful, but we're very much looking at future potential, so while good technical ability is vastly important, we want more than that. We want business people who happen to be lawyers as opposed to technical lawyers who are dabbling in business. We want well-rounded people from all sorts of backgrounds who show a degree of energy and aren't scared to offer their thoughts, ideas and new initiatives.
SG: How can a candidate really impress at the application and interview stage?
AS: A successful candidate needs to be confident, able to talk about their experience, explain why it's of interest and relevant in a business context and why it will make them a good problem-solver. It doesn't have to be legal work experience or even within professional services – all sorts of experiences are valuable – but you must demonstrate why it offers the relevant skills and why it would make you an interesting person for us to interview.
100 New Bridge Street,
- Partners 90
- Assistant solicitors 271
- Trainees 62
- Contact The graduate recruitment team, 020 7919 1000
- Email [email protected]
- Website www.bakermckenzie.com/londongraduates
- Method of application Online via our website www.bakermckenzie.com/londongraduates
- Selection procedure Online application, online tests, video interview and assessment centre
- No. of training contracts pa 30
- Required degree grade 2:1 or equivalent 340 UCAS points or equivalent.
- Training salary
- First year: £45,000
- Second year: £49,000
- Post-qualification salary £72,000
- Overseas offices Over 75 offices across in nearly 50 countries
Main areas of work