Those serious about corporate and finance work take note: this elite New Yorker wants eager trainees to help build its burgeoning UK practice.
Its London training contract is about as fresh as they come, but Davis Polk is no baby-faced cherub: it's an international, NYC-founded, corporate finance-focused juggernaut. It's amassed ten global offices, covering the US, South America, Europe and Asia. Despite establishing a London office in 1972, Davis Polk opted to build up some clout in the capital before launching its UK practice in 2012, but still keeps things compact with around 70 lawyers. As a result, trainees told us the office “has a much more intimate feel,” but also packs a punch with “the brand name of an elite New York firm” behind it. POW!
The London office is “all about high-end corporate finance transactions,” says training partner Will Pearce – a statement we weren't surprised to hear given the firm's rep in the States, particularly in the fields of M&A, capital markets and financial services regulation. Prospective trainees should therefore be under no illusions as to the training contract's focus, as Pearce makes clear: “You aren't going to come here if you want to be a real estate lawyer or if you're looking for an array of niche practices.” Like the training contract itself – which welcomed its first trainees in 2014 – the UK practice is evolving and still receives a fair amount of work from other offices. For now, Chambers UK ranks Davis Polk London for both its equity and debt capital markets expertise, but with the pulling-power of the firm behind it – and the Hong Kong office's expansion into litigation setting a precedent for London's future growth.
“It's all about high-end corporate finance transactions.”
In keeping with the training contract's focus, “there isn't much choice” when it comes to seats. Everyone does a stint in corporate which covers equity and debt capital markets too. Trainees also do seats with the credit and regulatory teams and most do a stint in New York too. While our sources weren't exactly whining about the prospect of going to the Big Apple for six months, they did feel that split seats were the way forward to offer just a bit more room to sample different areas – something the firm, we hear, has acted on following trainee feedback. Seat allocation-wise, “trainees are assigned their first seat but after that you talk through your preferences with the training principal.” Given that there's no contentious practice in London, trainees complete a “five-day super litigation course in the office.”
Lawyers without borders
Davis Polk's “broad corporate seat” covers M&A and debt and equity capital markets matters, and “the idea is that trainees do a mixture throughout.” On the M&A side, trainees can hone their skills on both public and private transactions. The financial institutions and technology sectors are particular strengths here, with clients including JP Morgan, Morgan Stanley and software company Temenos. Cross-border transactions are the order of the day, with one trainee highlighting that “it's rare for us to do a deal that's just based in London.” A recent billion-dollar border-buster saw the team advise Swedish-Finnish telecoms company TeliaSonera as it sold its shares in Nepalese mobile operator Ncell to Axiata – a Malaysian telecoms outfit. The mechanics of the deal sound almost as exhausting as trainees' workloads: “It's cyclical in nature, so it can be quiet but it can also crank up in the weeks before a closing, meaning you can work from 9am until 3am sometimes.” Of course, due diligence rears its persistent head. “It's not interesting, but everyone has to do it as a junior!” More exciting responsibilities include “drafting articles of association and having discussions with whichever local counsel is advising us.”
Equity capital markets matters often concern companies looking to list on a selection of European and US stock exchanges, like Euronext Amsterdam and NASDAQ. A crop of banking heavyweights appear here, and the group recently advised JP Morgan, Barclays, Citigroup and Nomura International on their roles in Wizz Air's (a Hungarian budget airline) £258 million IPO. Trainees had worked on a number of rights offerings, where companies give current shareholders the chance to snap up new shares at a discount. Critical to many transactions here is the prospectus, which “sets out what the offer is, including any risk factors that investors should be aware of. A typical task for trainees is drafting these risk factors. That means you have to go digging into what the company is about and why it needs the money.”
“The teams are lean so you can pick up higher-level tasks.”
The tax department services a similar pool of financial institutions, and often picks up work from the corporate and credit departments. Lawyers here recently lent their tax know-how on the Wizz Air IPO we mentioned earlier, as well as the Verisk Analytics and Temenos acquisitions that we covered. Trainees told us their seat here was research-heavy, with one source estimating that about “60 to 70%” of their time was taken up by it. “You'll be looking into the processes governing deals, documents like SPAs and tax disclosures in prospectuses.” At the time of our research we heard that “tax is quiet, so you're expected to help other departments, especially corporate – sometimes it can feel that you're doing more of a corporate than a tax seat, which can leave you feeling a tad muddled.” At the time we went to press, the firm told us it had got rid of the separate tax seat and that tax work was now done by trainees throughout their transactional seats.
Polk-ed on Facebook
Davis Polk has continued to encourage trainees to dish their views on the training contract, with this year's crop of interviewees securing split seats and “some accounting training that we asked for.” Most of the training, however, comes from trainees' close interaction with their supervisors – typically senior associates who they share an office with. Supervisors also serve a very handy protective function, we hear: “They shield you and they also give you work. If I'm busy, my supervisor will just tell whoever is asking me to work on something that I can't do it.”
Sources flagged the office's “professional culture” and suggested that “it's perhaps a little bit more formal here than it is elsewhere.” But there is a softer side, nonetheless: “On the surface, when we're dealing with clients, there's that professional, formal edge, but with each other we're chilled out... as long as the work is getting done!” On the whole, trainees agreed that the office leans to the “conservative” side, though one interviewee commented: “I feel like we are trying to be a little cool by having a Facebook page and handing out selfie sticks at law fairs!”
“It's not anti-social...” was one trainee's wavering response to being asked how soirée-driven Davis Polk is. Another elaborated for us: “Sure there are the office-wide summer and Christmas parties, but on the whole it's the trainees who do the most socialising. We go for lunches and get together on the weekends: you have to be impulsive, as plans often don't work out on weekdays!” That's because the hours can be taxing: “I worked every weekend for a month,” relayed one source, but we did hear that respite is available in “seats like tax, competition or regulatory, where your average day lasts from 9am to 7pm.” How work is shared out could be refined, sources felt: “It would be good to have a larger HR department to deal with staffing and seat allocation,” they suggested. However, our interviewees understood that “the English practice is still finding its feet, as is the training contract: you sign up for it, and you help them try to iron out the creases.” The firm's whopping great salary – which outstrips any magic circle firm's – ought to help with those "creases."
2016 saw Davis Polk's first batch of trainees qualify. At the time of our calls the exact process was still “up in the air,” but sources expected a more informal approach and most NQ slots to be available in the corporate and credit departments. In the end, three of five qualifiers stayed on board.
How to get a Davis Polk training contract
Vacation scheme deadline (2017): 13 January 2017
Training contract deadline (2019): 13 January 2017 (via vac scheme)
Davis Polk is going with a fresh approach for recruiting trainees in 2017, choosing to recruit its 2019 intake solely from those who attend vac scheme. Training partner Will Pearce explains: “The rationale behind doing this stems from the very good applicants we are now getting. Over the past few years we've had applicants which law firms fight over: those with a high 2:1 or First from the top ten universities. Those applicants are being super-selective now, and they've given us the feedback that they'll only work for a firm where they have done a vac scheme.” Furthermore “beyond having excellent academics, the fit is crucial in a small office. Getting to know the candidates well is very important for us.” The firm is anticipating an increase in applications for its vac sheme places as a result of this change. Be aware the application window opens on 1 November 2016 and closes on 13 January 2017.
To apply for the vac scheme, Davis Polk sticks with the tried and tested CV and covering letter. “We ask that you give us a fulsome CV, breaking down your grades, work experience and extra-curricular activities which are pertinent,” says Pearce. “I'd say less is more – but don't try and hide anything!”
The covering letter should explain a candidate's reasons for studying the law, why they want to study at an international firm, what attracts them to Davis Polk and why they are suited to it, but Pearce tells us: “I'm looking for someone thoughtful who has done their research and someone who understands what Davis Polk is about.” It pays to get specific: “It shows commercial awareness to pick out a deal we've worked on which interests you. We're unashamedly an international firm but a student impresses by drilling down and saying what people in London have been working on. It shows that they've taken the time to think about the firm in depth, rather than just copying and pasting something from the recruitment website.”
Successful applicants are invited to two interviews to try and snag a place on the vac scheme, spending around two hours at the office in total. The first of the two interviews is with a couple of partners, but first trainees are given half an hour to read a briefing note for a fictional transaction. “In the first half of the interview we want to know about the individual,” says Pearce. “We don't have stock questions and there might be a few left field things, just to see how candidates react.” The second half focuses on the fictional transaction and briefing note, and is “essentially a commercial awareness test,” looking at “what you would be doing as a lawyer.” The partners then take questions from the candidate.
The second interview is with associates, or possibly a current trainee, and scales back the pressure slightly. “It's an informal chat. It's very much to give the candidate an idea of the people who work here.”
The vacation scheme
The firm runs two vac schemes; each lasts for two weeks with one in late June and the other in late July. Each scheme takes roughly ten candidates, but that's not written in stone. “If we have 16 superstars, we'll do two of eight, if we have 26 we'll make it work somehow, rather than saying we don't have enough places.”
Students will do a workshop in each of the firm's practice areas, guided by a senior lawyer and then get stuck into some trainee-esque work. “Over the summer, departments might be a little slower, so to give a more representative experience we do a case study where students do research and draft a client memo. It's not formally marked because some students might be working on real deals and so have less time to complete it.” In the second week students take part in a team exercise where they prepare and carry out a mock pitch to a client.
The firm holds open days for both first and second-year students where it gives talks about the firm's recruitment process, goes through case studies to practice interview skills and puts on drinks for attendees. “We want people to like us for who we are and what we do, so we'll talk on open days about people's different career opportunities. We're very happy to give constructive career advice.”
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Davis Polk & Wardwell London LLP
5 Aldermanbury Square,
- Partners 10 (over 140 worldwide)
- Other fee earners over 40 (over 750 worldwide)
- Total trainees 8
- Contact email@example.com
- Method of application Please visit our website at careers.davispolk.com for information on how to apply
- Selection procedure Cover letter with CV followed by an interview
- Closing date for 2019 15 January 2017
- Training contracts pa Approx 4
- Required degree grade 2:1 or higher
- Training salary
- First year: £50,000
- Second year: £55,000
- Post-qualification compensation £112,500
- Overseas offices New York, Menlo Park, Washington DC, São Paulo, Paris, Madrid, Tokyo, Beijing and Hong Kong
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