Gibson Dunn's small London intake means trainees get "the opportunity to take responsibility and do work you might not get your hands on at other firms."
“Reputation, first and foremost.” Trainees really didn't miss a beat when asked their motivations for choosing Gibson Dunn: “It has an amazing reputation in the US and is building it worldwide.” What is now an international law firm with around 1,200 lawyers, ten US offices and ten overseas offices, started as a one-man business venture in the nineteenth-century quiet frontier town of Los Angeles. GD set its sights on London back in the 70s, but has only started taking on trainees since 2015. It's all part of the growth plan: “The firm has been investing heavily in expansion across the globe. In the past few years the emphasis has been on New York and London as two key financial centres, and where our clients are. But the more recent push has been in London, punctuated by the arrival of a number of partners since 2014/15,” training principal Mark Sperotto explains.
“You'd get noticed for the right reasons.”
As part and parcel of this, the trainee intake also growing: “It's a relatively new player in London, particularly in terms of grad recruitment. There's definitely a real sense of growth in the London office.” The first intake took on four trainees, the second took on six, and in 2017 seven joined. The smaller intake was another draw for sources, who felt “it would be more focused and you'd get noticed for the right reasons. It's also much easier for you to pursue what you want to do as opposed to being swept along in a big group of other people.” Sperotto adds: “The departments and areas are numerous, but the number of trainees is low. This means departments are clambering over each other to attract trainees into them. To some extent, trainees are able to guide and map out the way they want their training contracts to go.”
Gibson Dunn has historically been well known for its litigation prowess, and is something of a celebrity in Chambers USA for this, but multiple sources were keen to highlight that the firm is “investing hugely in ramping up its corporate side,” and Chambers UK acknowledges this with a ranking in corporate/M&A.
Trainees all agree the firm “came across as being authentic and didn't beat around the bush. You get the sense that nobody is trying to push an agenda.” The people were a big positive for sources: “The people here are incredibly accommodating, bright and friendly. It's a good combination of people who you'll happily work with. Of course it's important to have good lawyers, but when you're here late at night, you want to be here with people you can get on with." 2017 was the first year trainees qualified with the firm and all four were retained.
A Day In The Life
Due to the youth of this training contract, seat allocation is still “pretty informal.” Trainees complete a compulsory transactional seat and disputes seat to “cover the two core areas,” usually in their first year. Then “second-years might choose to do something more specific,” tax, employment or competition. “From chatting to fellow trainees, you get a good picture of where people want to go, so can usually figure it out among yourselves,” sources explained, noting: “It's one of the positives of having a smaller intake.” This was especially relevant when considering an overseas seat (currently Dubai or Hong Kong) or a client secondment. At the moment someone goes abroad every rotation and on client secondment every other rotation. “In the event that more than one person applies, you write a statement saying why you want to go.”
“As soon as you've shown you're capable, they're happy to give you meatier pieces of work.”
A seat in disputes could cover anything from commercial litigation to white-collar investigations or international arbitration. Trainees noted: “When you sit in disputes you're not pigeonholed into one of those. I worked on a little of all three – it's good for getting a general overview of the practice.” The firm’s lofty reputation in this area draws in “classic work involving large banking clients of the firm – these cases are big and go on for a couple of years.” But there are some offbeat jobs like human rights cases, for which trainees were “allowed to take a role in drafting of legal submissions.” Trainees reported doing the “more mundane trainee tasks like creating bundles for trials and proofreading,” but also “having the first stab at first drafts of letters and more minor documents.” Sources reckoned that “as soon as you've shown you're capable, they're happy to give you meatier pieces of work.” On the arbitration side, we heard about a trainee who'd got to go along to a hearing in front of a retired former Court of Appeal judge every day for three weeks. There's an abundance of cross-border matters: “It's one of the reasons I joined the firm, and I've not been disappointed!”
The corporate seat is also pretty broad, and similarly, trainees “aren't segmented into, say, M&A trainees, capital market trainees, etc. There's a pool of trainees and whatever you're asked to do you can do it.” In addition to M&A and capital markets, there's also private equity and funds work, and trainees are “encouraged to see the differences between them for yourself.” Overall, some sources felt “corporate tasks are more trainee suited – there are more minor tasks that you can be left to get on with.” As a result, trainees were “frequently emailing clients and lawyers on the other side,” and “asking and responding to client questions,” alongside more typical tasks related to ancillary documents, board minutes and keeping on top of check lists. Recently, the team advised bookmaker William Hill on its proposed merger with Amaya, an online gambling company, for £4.6 billion.
“It's one of the reasons I joined the firm, and I've not been disappointed!”
In finance, the department focuses on a number of areas, including acquisition finance, securitisation, real estate finance, project finance, refinancings and restructurings. “Generally associates in this seat are quite trusting of trainees,” sources felt. We heard of one getting to run a due diligence questionnaire – “that was the highlight of my seat!” Trainees also ran conditions precedent checklists, dealt with bibles, and helped generally at completion. As an example of the team’s work, it recently advised satellite services company SES on the financing and acquisition of O3b Networks.
“It is friendly, but demanding,” sources reflected when asked about the culture. “You're obviously expected to produce quality work, and volunteer when you've got capacity, but at the same time it's very supportive.” Trainees noted: “Partners are also quite interested in hearing about how the training contract is going. Everyone is really invested in developing young lawyers, which is what you want.” Sources praised this as “very refreshing and very genuine.” According to trainees, “relationships feel very organic – there's nothing fake about it. We talk and get on as normal human beings.”
“Everyone is really invested in developing young lawyers, which is what you want.”
And like most normal human beings, trainees at Gibson Dunn let off steam and hit the pub on a Friday night with colleagues (if work permits). The mentoring programme – where incoming newbies are assigned a mentor to help with advice, both personal and professional – also organises events. The latest was an evening at Bounce, the ping pong club. Most sources agreed that a highlight of the social scene was the four-day trip to Arizona for the New Lawyers retreat. “In the mornings we got talks from interesting people, then we were left to our own devices. It's one of the nicest hotels I've ever been to!” Multiple sources reported enjoying it so much they extended their trip by a couple of days.
Back in London, sources were keen to talk about the offices themselves: “One is in Telephone House which is this beautiful old building with a gorgeous spiral staircase. The other one, which is connected, is this really modern building – something you might think of as a law firm on a TV show.” Telephone House is where most of the disputes lawyers sit, while the other building houses the transactional lawyers. It is located in Temple, with “Inner Temple and Middle Temple gardens right next door, with the river on one side. It's nice not being bang in the middle of the City.”
It probably helps that trainees like their working environment, as many have expressed that occasionally, the hours can be “quite demanding.” Sources explained: “If you've got nothing on, you can probably leave at fiveish. If there's a closing or signing, it can be post-midnight. It completely depends. But there's definitely not a culture of face time, or staying for the sake of it.” Although the hours can be hefty sometimes, many agreed that “American firms get a bad rep for working you all the time. It's not that you work longer hours, you just stay when you know there's a job that needs to be done.” As for weekends, working is “the exception rather than the norm. People do try to keep weekends as a sacred thing.”
With very few exceptions, Gibson Dunn hires trainees exclusively from its vacation scheme.
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How to get a Gibson Dunn training contract
Spring open day deadline (2018): 15 April 2018
Training contract deadline (2020): 31 July 2018
Gibson Dunn's London office welcomed its first batch of trainees in 2015. Graduate recruitment manager Kathryn Edwards says that “to date, we've recruited 100% of our trainees from the vacation scheme – it's a vital part of the recruitment process. That's not to say it always will be, but I always encourage those interested in training with us to get onto the scheme.”
The firm uses the same application form for the vac scheme and training contract. It covers academic and work experience and there's a cover letter section, “which is the key part of the application,” says Kathryn Edwards. “We don’t break it down much for them as we want to assess how they approach the exercise of writing the letter. It's an opportunity for candidates to tell us anything they'd like to about themselves, including noteworthy achievements or interests. From this we can get a real feel for the person, because the relatively free structure of the letter allows an applicant's personality to shine through.”
The firm receives about 500 initial applications and the top 10% are invited in for an hour-long interview with a partner and an associate. During this interview, “generally, half the time is spent exploring the application form and the other half going through a topical news article that we ask candidates to read quite quickly before the interview starts and discuss. The emphasis is very much on how candidates marshal the information in the article, express themselves and formulate their arguments, particularly when challenged. Their level of knowledge of the topic and their personal opinion are irrelevant.”
The vacation scheme has 20 places and runs for three weeks in July. Students who successfully bag a spot on the “jam-packed programme” spend a week and a half with a supervisor in the firm's transactional group and the same amount of time within the disputes group. “We try to ensure they're getting involved in live work and gain a realistic understanding of what it's like to train at GD,” explains Edwards. Assessed exercises include a group presentation which “allows students to showcase their team-working skills. We want to see whether they thrive in a group, how they divide up tasks and support one another.” This year the presentation was “related to Brexit – advising an investment bank and a corporate about the implications of Brexit for them. The actual presentation is scheduled in the final week, which means the students have three weeks to research the scenario and produce a two-page memo before they're up on their feet for a ten-minute presentation.”
There are also written exercises to contend with. One “has a corporate slant, while the other requires the students to consider the elements of a settlement agreement. In each case the students attend an information session to learn about the task set, as well as receiving feedback so they know what they did right and where there might be room for improvement. We think it’s really important for students to learn and develop while here.” Vac schemers also get involved in a mock negotiation, which “isn't formally assessed. We split the group into teams and run three concurrent negotiations – people enjoy being out of their comfort zone and taking on a different persona. We talk to them beforehand about tactics and they put that theory into practice. Students often report that it’s a favourite part of the scheme.”
'Coffee conversations' are also on the itinerary – “these are informal chats over coffee and biscuits with partners and senior associates from each of the firm’s practice areas, with the opportunity to ask questions about life as a trainee and the day-to-day work of each team.”
Kathryn Edwards notes that “one of the highlights” of the vac scheme is a discussion with Lord Falconer QC, who's a partner at the firm. Falconer talks to the group about his career, which included working alongside Tony Blair as Lord Chancellor. Edwards tells us: “He encourages the students to examine what it is they want from a legal career, what their goals and aspirations are, and how they can use their skills for good in the future. The session is extremely inspirational and the students really look forward to it!”
On the social side of things, there's a legal treasure hunt around the City, a curry night in East London, a ping-pong championship at Bounce (including medal ceremony!), plenty of impromptu drinks, the JP Morgan Corporate Challenge, a ride on the London Eye complete with Champagne and canapés, plus a farewell summer party on the firm’s roof terrace overlooking the Thames.
How much work experience do successful candidates need? “There's no set amount. We review each application individually and expect to see different paths. I might want a little more legal work experience from someone who's a non-law student in order to evidence their commitment to a legal career, and to show they've investigated whether commercial law is for them. It doesn't have to be weeks of vac schemes but valuable experiences like attending court or working in a commercial institution in the City or in the service industry. We also understand that it is easier for some students to get relevant and interesting work experience than others. The key thing is that, whatever level of experience a candidate has, he or she has thought a little outside the parameters of their particular role, for example, considering the commercial aspects of the organisation for which they have worked. We like curious individuals!”
Any final tips for candidates? Edwards says: “Be yourself! When reviewing application after application, we find that the way to stand out is to reflect your genuine personality in the cover letter. Don’t just repeat things at length which you’ve read on our website or tell us what you think we want to hear.”
US firms in London
Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP
2-4 Temple Avenue,
- Partners 26 (London)
- Associates 55 (London)
- Total trainees 13
- UK offices London
- Overseas offices Beijing, Brussels, Century City, Dallas, Denver, Dubai, Frankfurt, Hong Kong, Houston, Los Angeles, Munich, New York, Orange County, Palo Alto, Paris, San Francisco, São Paulo, Singapore, Washington DC
- Graduate recruiter: Stephen Trowbridge, graduate recruitment and development manager
- Training Partner: Mark Sperotto
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 8
- Applications pa: 650
- Minimum required degree: grade 2:1
- Minimum A levels: AAA, ABB, AAC or equivalent
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: 1 October 2017
- Training contract deadline, 2020 start: 31t July 2018
- Vacation scheme 2018 deadline: 1 February 2018
- Open day deadline: 26 November 2017 (general open day), 15 April 2018 (First Year Insight Scheme)
- Method of application: Online
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £45,000
- Second-year salary: £50,000
- Post-qualification salary: £112,500
- Holiday entitlement: 25
- LPC fees: Yes
- GDL fees: Yes
- Maintenance grant pa: Competitive
- International and regional
- Offices with training contracts: London
- Overseas seats: Dubai, Hong Kong
- Client secondments: Yes
Main areas of work
Trainees rotate around four six-month seats with opportunity to spend time in corporate, finance, dispute resolution, employment, tax, competition and funds. We expect to be able to offer secondments to overseas offices of the firm, and with clients.
Trainees share a room with a partner or senior associate, and work with them on their matters, whilst also having the opportunity to work with the other lawyers in the firm. Gibson Dunn is proud to have a strong, sustained commitment to pro bono work, and our trainees are encouraged to participate in this tradition and work on local and international pro bono activities.
• Pay: £500 per week
Our summer vacation scheme is intended for both law students and students of other disciplines in their penultimate and final year of study, recent graduates (in any discipline), and those already taking a GDL or LPC course.
Gibson Dunn strongly encourages candidates interested in a training contract to apply for a place on our vacation scheme, rather than directly for a training contract. To date, the majority of our trainees have been recruited from our summer scheme.
Early application is advised as places will be allocated on a rolling basis.
You will also benefit from individual annual book, client development and professional development allowances, attendance at US firm retreats and extensive professional development, diversity and pro bono programmes.
Open days and first-year opportunities
• 5 December 2017
• Applications are welcome from those who are eligible to apply for our summer vacation scheme.
First Year Insight Scheme
• 26 April 2018
• Applications are welcome from law students in their first year of undergraduate study and students of other disciplines in their first or second year of study.