'Global, not international' is a saying you might hear in Baker Mac's corridors. Indeed, lawyers here don't merely do international stuff: “Working across multiple time zones and jurisdictions is second nature.”
'ampered by an &?
At your next law fair, if this firm tries to lure you in with free stationery, be sure to have a gander at the slick new branding adorning its pens, jelly beans and USBs. Gone are the old days of Baker & McKenzie – say hello to the newer, sleeker Baker McKenzie. Ditching the ampersand and tweaking the font is inconsequential, we hear you scream. But in the nuanced world of legal marketing psychology it's a big thing, apparently: “Clients tell us that they don't feel that law firms are changing,” Baker's global chief marketing officer, Laurie Robertson, explained to the Legal Tech blog, “and we want to get out in front of this so the new look does signal change." The new logo with its full stop signifies stability, confidence and bright optimism, he explained, while "taking it from all caps to lower case is more approachable.” Trainees we spoke to also bought into this branding reboot: “You can't be what you were in the '50s," one opined sensibly, "and this reflects our status as a progressive firm.” They also joked reassuringly that the makeover “hasn't led to any mass walkouts!”
Ampersand or no ampersand, Baker McKenzie is still a famous legal giant. With 77 offices worldwide, it’s the third largest global firm by office count and second by revenue (last year it raked in a cool $2.64 billion). Several of this year’s trainee cohort told us that as “a global firm with the best potential for high quality cross-border work,” Baker stood ahead of the pack when they were applying.Typical dealwork has a strong global flavour, as you can see if we pick a random work highlight: Japanese insurer Meiji Yasuda Life's $5 billion acquisition of US-based StanCorp. All this talk of global megadeals and financial wizardry might seem a tad intimidating, but insiders made clear that Baker is actually more of a big friendly giant: “Nice is an awful word but it really does define us well. It's clear from the outset that everyone is here to work hard, but there also a real emphasis placed on looking out for each other’s well-being.”
“There are colleagues in international offices that I work with more than colleagues in my office.”
Interviewees confirmed that the “collegial atmosphere” is inter-office as well as intra-office. “Being on an overseas secondment still feels like I'm in the same firm, the same family,” one jet-setter explained. “The firm functions more as an amalgamation of several local law firms under the same umbrella, compared to other international firms where they have one base and satellite offices elsewhere.” Another added that “colleagues in international offices that I work with more than colleagues in my office, and I feel that gives us an edge because local lawyers naturally have a better idea of the market in that area.”
Despite being originally Chicago born and bred, Baker Mac doesn't feel overly US-centric to its lawyers here in Blighty: “London is no lackey to the US," one said bluntly. "We are seen as the contact to the rest of the world, and the managing partner here is definitely running his own ship!” Chambers UK highlights the numerous diverse strengths of Baker's UK operation with top rankings for practices including intellectual property, IT, employment, commercial contracts, public law, private client and telecoms. Trainees felt pretty plugged into the firm's strategy of a "big push" in transactional and disputes work "to compete in the magic circle sphere." They noted "the advantages of our global presence, which magic circle firms might not have." To this end, Baker Mac recently nabbed partners from Allen & Overy, Clifford Chance and Ropes & Gray to beef up its corporate team.
Trainees are guaranteed at least one of their preference seats over the course of their training contract – typically in their third seat. For the other three they simply list their top three choices before each rotation. “It's a good system,” insiders reported, although “sometimes there could be more transparency from graduate recruitment.Sometimes there can be a delay when it comes to telling us where we're going next, which can be stressful if you are going on secondment. It's also generally implied that your first seat will be transactional because the others are so popular.” On the topic of secondments, there's been “a recent push to encourage trainees to go on client rather than international secondments.” As usual, we heard tales of trainees racking up the air miles to places like Hong Kong and Brussels, but some grumbled about fewer international secondments these days. However, not to be cup-half-empty sort of people, sources were happy to see Melbourne and Toyko recently added to the list of destinations, and they looked forward to the “18-month and even two-year secondments that open up at associate level.” They also appreciated the more readily available client secondments – glamorous postings to clients like Facebook, Apple and Domestos-to-Ben-&-Jerry's-maker Unilever.
Baker McKenzie's hefty corporate department is split into no fewer than seven subgroups: corporate reorganisation; private M&A; private equity and funds; tax; corporate finance; energy, mining and infrastructure; and environmental markets. All are separate seats – fabulous if you want to do several transactional seats. Corporate finance covers all public company work, including public M&A and IPOs. “A classic transactional seat,” it sees trainees preparing pitches and prospectuses for client meetings, drafting board minutes and “completing whole loads of verification.” In private M&A – "I loved the seat!" – insiders explained that "you don't have all the stock market rules,” adding: “It's different because you're buying from private shareholders.” The corporate reorganisation team complements the M&A side of things and specialises in breaking up corporate entities and working on integration post-merger. “Trainees here are the middle men in terms of day-to-day updates between the offices. A lot of the work is project management – making sure all the jurisdictions are providing the work and chasing them up if they aren't.” Last year the firm orchestrated a tricky three-way transaction for multinational Emerson Electric: a $4 billion carve-out and sale of its Network Power business to Platinum Equity, the sale of Emerson's Leroy-Somer and Control Techniques businesses to Nidec, and the acquisition of the Valves & Controls business of Pentair Plc. Electrifying stuff.
The dispute resolution department, "after corporate the biggest department in terms of trainees," has roughly "11 partners and 36 fee-earners." It's divided into subgroups including business crime and fraud, construction and project disputes, international arbitration and regulatory and public law. Assignments include "white-collar crime, financial institutions, product recall, public law, arbitration and competition law. Those are the big work groups. The more junior you are, the more you are told to sample a bit of everything." One source had relished working on high-powered fraud and corruption cases "for the entire six months," although there are opportunities to work on a wide range of stuff which helps explain why "a lot of people want to do this seat." Typical tasks include "some bundling, of course, research, and corresponding with other parties to make sure they receive all the documents. The coordination of the case fell to me, which was interesting because I got to see how to make everyone happy and keep on top of deadlines."
Trainees flagged the newish IT and commercial team as a popular seat. Its advisory side dispenses wisdom to clients such as Netflix, Google and the Beeb on various cutting-edge techy things like cybersecurity, AI and data protection. On the transactional side, it's all about negotiating big commercial contracts, which goes hand-in-hand with a consumer practice drafting Ts & Cs for consumer contracts. For one trainee, this meant clamping on a “virtual reality headset and having to complete a payment process of various games and apps.” Dizzying work. Another lucky trainee “even got to go to the Crystal Maze in London with clients after winning a case!”
“I got to go to the Crystal Maze in London with clients.”
The firm’s IP seat rolls contentious, transactional and advisory work into a jam-packed six months. Trainees may find themselves conducting copyright work for Facebook, defending L'Oréalin some trademark infringement or working on an M&A deslfor Unilever. “This seat involves a lot of project management but also requires trainees to conduct in-depth legal research.” Work highlights here are usually confidential, but we can tell you that lawyers recently helped an “iconic American jewellery brand” protect its designs and artistic craftsmanship. They also advised a big logistics company who were sponsoring a major sports championship on its rights to use players' names and images online and in social media.
Were you a disillusioned Brexiter or passionate Remainer? If politics floats your boat then the EU, competition & trade seat should be high on your list of preferences. “The EU trade team is a strange mix of two areas of law that sit together: competition and trade," a trainee who'd been here informed us.Competition matters include merger control filings and representing companies subject to cartel investigations. On the trade team, it's mainly sanctions work – making sure clients aren't breaching laws by importing or exporting to and from sanctioned countries. “It's very political, which makes things interesting as situations are prone to change quickly,” our sources explained. Their tasks include doc review to wheedle out potential anti-competitive behaviour, sanction-screening processes, and interviewing people in bribery investigations. Investment banks have been under the European Commission's spotlight recently, and solicitors have assisted in investigations into alleged collusion regarding credit default swaps. Working closely with Europe brings with it the perk of occasional trips abroad: “I'm meant to be going to Brussels on a ten-day cartel investigation,” one trainee glowed.
Unlike some US firms in London, “training at Baker is definitely not just on the job.” Trainees were keen to highlight the department-led training which “makes you feel really supported going into each seat.” They also felt that the smaller trainee intake relative to the size of the firm means “trainees get a lot of responsibility.Associates and partners have the time to get to know us, to challenge us and walk us through the work.”
Hours can vary dramatically between departments. If you're committed to a corporate-heavy training contract, the reality of your life is that “some weeks are going to be 80-plus hours and some weeks are going to be just over 40 hours.” Other seats such as tax, IP, IT, and EU, competition and trade offer more consistent hours, the average day for most being somewhere between 9am and 7pm with late nights less frequent. But even “shocking, early morning finishes don't feel that painful. It’s never a case of associates dumping work on you because they want to have dinner with their friends!” Interviewees heaped praise on their fellow trainees: “It’s a support network that you can really utilise. We often help each other out if someone has a lot of work to finish.”
“We have lots of themed parties.”
Baker McKenzie's parties are as diverse as its geographic presence. “We have lots of themed parties. We’ve had a Jamaican party, a Chinese New Year party which featured dancing dragons, and a carnival party with a huge steel band and cocktails. After the firm published its financial results, we got a spontaneous email announcing a random Brazilian party.” Last Christmas, trainees released their inner artistic spirits by staging a 20-minute '12 days of Christmas' skit for the rest of the firm. The focus on diversity isn't limited to parties either, with an “equally big diversity emphasis when it comes to work. We have a lot of different working groups discussing issues relating to inequality, the environment, LGBT, disabilities and well-being.” With opportunities to join sports teams and engage in a variety of pro bono work, trainees' plates are full to overflowing.
On the qualification front, Baker opts for a stricter approach: “It's very much a formal application. We can put down three options – although most only put down one – and we then have to submit a CV detailing the key transactions we have worked on. Graduate recruitment also encourage us to have discussions with the partners of the department we wish to qualify into.” While most seemed content with the process, sources did note that “there is no list published with the number of places available in each department, which can make things pretty nerve-racking.” In 2017, 27 of 32 qualifiers were retained.
Why Baker McKenzie? "For me, it was the fact it called itself global, not international, which caught my eye during my firm research. It has offices everywhere but they all work under the same umbrella rather than being international satellites in other countries. I like that my colleagues elsewhere are actually my colleagues."
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How to get a Baker McKenzie training contract
Training contract deadline: 31 July 2018 (penultimate year students; opens 1 June 2017)
The application process is the same for both vacation scheme and training contract 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,” Jacqui Bernuzzi – graduate recruitment & development manager – 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, successful 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 – vacation 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,” Bernuzzi assures us. “Rather, it's about utilising commercial awareness.”
Following this, there's an interview with an associate who quizzes participants on their CV and competencies; the day is then rounded off with a two-partner interview. This requires candidates to discuss a case study they were given 30 minutes prior, and they also face general questions about their application and motivations.
Baker McKenzie runs two vacation 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 based on their preferences submitted beforehand. The vacation 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 vacation schemers have an 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 Bernuzzi.
International vacation scheme
Baker McKenzie 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 gain 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 McKenzie's graduate recruitment partner to discuss why they are keen to go abroad as part of their vacation scheme. The firm organises flights and accommodation for participants.
In addition to its vacation schemes, Baker McKenzie runs three open days during the year for both law and non-law graduates and undergraduates. The day includes skills workshops, a networking event and lunch with a group of lawyers. The firm has 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.
More on the tax seat
The tax team is “unique in that it has a mix of lawyers, accountants and economists. It's quite exciting because sometimes you sit in a room and know that you are the only lawyer there!” It also comes with the opportunity “for more academic legal analysis and a chance to utilize skills that you learn at university and the school of law.” As well as performing traditional advisory duties, the team also houses a large disputes team which opens up the chance for trainees to dip into some contentious work and take a whack at drafting witness statements. The tax team also supports any merger work undertaken by the M&A departments. Recently they provided all the tax advice relating to Barclays' sale of its retail and corporate banking business in Egypt to one of Morocco's biggest banks, Attijariwafa Bank.
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.
100 New Bridge Street,
- Partners 99
- Assistant solicitors 278
- Total trainees 68
- UK offices London
- Overseas offices 76
- The graduate recruitment team: 020 7919 1000
- Training partner: Arron Slocombe
- Application criteriea
- Training contracts pa: 33
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1 or equivalent
- Minimum UCAS points or A levels: 340 UCAS points or equivalent
- Vacation scheme places pa: 40
- Dates and deadlines
- For all dates and deadlines relating to our training contracts, vacation schemes and open days please see website
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £45,000
- Second-year salary: £49,000
- Post-qualification salary: £75,000
- Holiday entitlement: 25 day
- LPC tuition fees: Yes
- GDL tuition fees: Yes
- Maintenance grant pa: GDL: £6,000, LPC: £8,000
- International and regional
- Offices with training contracts: London
- Overseas seats: Sydney, Melbourne, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Johannesburg, Brussels, and Madrid. Changes each intake
- Client secondments: Yes, confidential
Main areas of work
Open days and first-year opportunities
University law careers fairs 2017