If trainees ever feel at sea during their free-floating training contract, they only need to call upon their NQ buddy to be their buoyancy aid.
Don't crawl, freestyle
When trainees use phrases like 'wet boys', 'master mariners', 'rope experts' and 'admiralty managers', you know you must be dealing with a shipping firm. Founded in 1870, Ince is one of the few prestigious ocean liners of shipping law firms, steaming past rivals who are mere cross-channel ferries. But the London-headquartered globetrotter is also big on insurance, energy, international trade, and aviation. Fairly uniquely, there's a lot of fluidity between practice groups, and work flows freely to trainees from various departments in each seat. “Ince doesn't operate a fixed-seat system,” one trainee explained. “You can effectively work with anyone. Lawyers are expected to go out, build relationships and bring in work. It's the same thing internally. You are physically sat in one group but are encouraged to get work from anywhere.” Nevertheless, maritime-related work and Ince go together like seawater and seaweed, so we'd strongly advise you to navigate your way around our nautical glossary before you turn up for a job interview here.
The big news at Ince this year is its Easter office move from its “not fit for purpose” space at St Katharine Docks to high up in the steel and glass Aldgate Tower on the edge of the City, near trendy Brick Lane. “We went open-plan – quite a change!” Trainees gave a thumbs-up to the “new technology” and “more collaborative” atmosphere in their fresh digs: “We're more agile. The only person with their own office is the chef, for hygiene reasons.” They heaped praise on the much larger and swankier canteen/lounge called 'The Exchange', with its “sofas, couches and small pods” as well as “a huge TV on the wall, where we watched the Euros and tennis.” The office switch came after a rocky period for Ince in the legal press, which had highlighted partner departures, a falling revenue and merger rumours; junior sources not only felt that “the move has drawn a line under it,” but noted that morale has shot up too: “There was a fab moving-in party which was great fun – from what we can remember.”
“Where you sit doesn't necessarily correspond with what you do.”
Shipping makes up around half of Ince's business, with the rest split between energy (20%), insurance (20%) and international trade/aviation (10%). Ince has handled the legal wreckage of some of the biggest shipping disasters around, not least the capsized 'Costa Concordia' back in 2012. The firm's fleet of 600-plus employees (including 250 lawyers) is spread between London (the HQ), Beijing, Dubai, Hamburg, Hong Kong, Le Havre, Monaco, Paris, Piraeus, Shanghai and Singapore. In May 2016, the firm announced it will also open an office in Cologne. Those hoping to nab an overseas seat are in luck as there are usually a couple each year, and there are occasional client secondments on offer. Much of the firm's output is contentious in nature, but its non-contentious practices are being built up too. While trainees in past years told us that “an interest in litigation is a must,” this is less true these days, as the transactionally inclined can find plenty to fill their time with in blossoming areas like shipping finance, energy projects, corporate, and insurance policy advice. Ince has recruited several transactional lateral partners in recent months, a noteworthy departure for a firm where “a lot of very senior people trained here” – over 70% of the partners, in fact.
“It's quite a distinctive training contract,” trainees emphasised. “You can be working on different matters at the same time, contentious and non-contentious. If you're enjoying working for one department you don't have to hand your cases back when you move seats. The disadvantage is that while you technically sit with a partner it doesn't feel like there's one person keeping an eye on you – and unless you manage your workload, you can get swamped.” Several trainees were happy with having their first seat allocated to them, as the firm appeared to have put effort into matching them to their interests. But at the end of the day it doesn't matter, as trainees are free to seek out the work they want irrespective of the seat they're in: “Where you sit doesn't necessarily correspond with what you do.”
"... passports in their bags ready to jet off at a moment's notice.”
The challenge of working in “blurred” seats for people who aren't your official supervisors “can be scary” at first, but Ince's 'NQ buddy' system helps. “I go to The Exchange regularly for a coffee with my NQ buddy, who's been a big help to me; I've learned how to do things that aren't taught in a structured way, like managing partners' expectations.” Trainees also found the six-monthly reviews helpful: “HR send a form for you to list what you've worked on, what you're happy with, what didn't go so well and what you think you can improve. Solicitors you worked with are all sent a form too, and rate you. Then you sit down with HR and discuss how aligned the feedback is.”
Typically, “capacity emails go round” regularly from fee earners asking trainees if they are available to work on something. “If you have a good relationship with a partner and do good work they'll give you more.” Despite being in a shipping seat, “I ended up working on insurance and energy matters” – a common type of experience. 'Wet shipping' is “the sexy, interesting, headline-grabbing stuff” involving “collisions, salvage disputes and wreck removal.” Ince has a 24/7 “emergency response team staffed by 'wet boys' who have passports in their bags ready to jet off at a moment's notice.” These curiously named individuals are master mariners, sometimes – but not always – lawyers, who include ex-Navy personnel and “a guy who used to drive tankers.” Trainees often find themselves drafting witness statements and interacting with marine experts who can advise on everything from snapped mooring ropes to steering gear mechanics and vessel data analysis. “For anything you can find on a vessel, there's an expert!” In one scorching case that made the headlines, Ince acted for a marine insurance company following a fire aboard a car transporter ship sailing from Germany to Southampton; it melted over 100 Mercedes and BMWs and caused $20 million in damage.
Delayed flights and drillship fights
'Dry shipping' encompasses a plethora of contract disputes and regulatory and compliance work. Clients include shipowners, charterers, P&I [protection & indemnity] clubs and hull underwriters. Juniors can expect to do “lots of discrete tasks like research, putting together the points of a case, and preparing bundles for a case going to trial. On a large case, I drafted witness statements, interviewed crew members, and liaised with the client. I felt thoroughly part of the team: I wasn't bogged down with the paperwork and was able to give instructions to counsel. I dealt with partners head-on rather than through associates.” We heard repeatedly in all seats that the “level of trainee responsibility is something the firm prides itself on. We operate in streamlined teams and trainees are expected to operate above their pay grade.” Sources were also encouraged to get involved in marketing efforts, which saw them brushing up those PowerPoint skills on conference presentations, attending events, and “keeping in close contact with clients and thinking of what legal services they need.” Occasionally they may even get to the “cricket, football or sailing” to schmooze clients.
As you'd expect, Ince's insurance department has a hefty marine side, but lawyers here also deal with plenty of stuff on land – everything from professional indemnity and reinsurance matters to the insurance implications resulting from natural and man-made catastrophes. “Insurance encompasses a very broad spectrum of claims, not just shipping, from personal injury to professional negligence.” The “broad range of work includes both contentious and non-contentious matters, from reviewing policies and advising on the wording to looking into policy breaches and drafting advice. Insurance is quite fun if you enjoy looking through the textbooks.” In one case that highlights the international flavour of much of Ince's work, the firm advised Amsterdam-based Trafigura (a global oil and metals trader) on liability insurance claims after it was implicated in fraud in China. The firm represents a lot of the big Lloyd's insurers and as a result “we have a small office in the Lloyd's building.” Top clients include Beazley, XL Catlin and Travelers.
Energy is another biggie at Ince, although one trainee who'd sat here “didn't do much energy because I carried over a big insurance and shipping case.” The department got its start during the North Sea oil and gas boom in the late 1960s, and today it acts for many of the world's energy drilling contractors. “It's mostly contentious but again they're growing the non-contentious side.” Cases “tend to be large-scale, complex and technical.” The seat is document-heavy: “There's quite a lot of the dreaded doc review, which is good for your hours. It's mostly original documents – emails and attachments – for witness statements and disclosure.” There are lots of doc “collations, reviews and ultimately preparing bundles for the hearing. You have to get immersed quickly, but senior people are always willing to give you an overview.” Illustrative work highlights include advising long-standing client Golar LNG on a ground-breaking liquefied natural gas (LNG) transaction in Sub-Saharan Africa, and working on an ultra-deepwater drillship contract dispute with a value running into hundreds of millions.
If your flight home from a summer raving in Ibiza or necking funnels in Magaluf has ever been delayed by over three hours, chances are you will have received compensation of up to €600, thanks to the EU's Regulation 261. In which case, it's possible an Ince trainee handled your claim. Several interviewees had enjoyed doing aviation work even though they hadn't necessarily spent a seat in it. Specifically, they relished being given “high-volume, low-value” flight delay compensation claims for airlines including Ryanair. “Trainees can run these cases. We prepare settlement agreements, liaise with the claims handler, get a feel for each case. We give advice to a client on whether to make an offer or defend the claim. There's a lot of clarifying factual issues – if there were 'extraordinary circumstances' they won't pay. It's definitely an opportunity to use your legal brain: a great training experience.” While delay claims occupy most trainees' time, other work here includes “big pieces of High Court litigation, involving damage to aircraft, for example.”
“Ince drinks are starting again.”
Interviewees frequently mentioned “Ince's size, friendliness and the fact that you can go up to any partner and ask for work” as reasons to apply here. “You have to be prepared for a lot of knock-backs initially, then a flood of requests comes in.” The hours “are not bad for the City” – 9.30am to 7pm or 7.30pm seemed about average, though most had experienced “peaks of activity before a hearing or deadline, and some weekend work.” Taxis home are available “after 9pm if it's a billable matter.” Most trainees were particularly busy when we called, which some put down to the firm recruiting fewer trainees than in the past (“ten in my year, not 15”), and busy departments. “Now the work has gone up I think they'll recruit more trainees in the future. It's been great for us as we've had lots of work, and they've retained everyone except one.” This year Ince retained eight out of nine qualifiers.
“Back in the day it was called the 'Ince family',” one source said of the bubbly culture here, which took a turn for the worse a couple of years ago but is re-emerging thanks to the office move to Aldgate Tower. “When I joined in 2014 Ince was known for being very social, but by the end of my first year I got the sense it wasn't as social any more and that people just went home after work. But there was an email last week saying that now we've settled in, Ince drinks are starting again, and the firm is giving all NQs a day off to go on a weekend away. All this helps to bring back the vibe.” Ince-ites look forward to the firm's annual black tie May Ball, while trainees are making the most of their new East London home by, among other things, working their way through the cocktail menu at the nearby Oliver Conquest pub and gin palace.
There was only one female trainee among Ince's nine second-years this year, but interviewees weren't worried by this “blip.” Indeed, among the ten first-years, six are women.
How to get into Ince & Co
Vacation scheme deadline: 31 January 2017
Training contract deadline: 31 July 2017
Application and assessment
Ince & Co typically receives between 500 and 800 direct training contract applications each year, and between 400 and 500 vacation scheme applications. There are ten training contracts and ten vacation scheme places on offer.
Applications for both begin with an online application form that covers a candidate's academics, work experience and past achievements as well as a covering letter. Recruitment advisor Sophia Eleftheriou urges applicants to “show you've researched us extensively and can demonstrate your interest in what we do, whether it's by discussing some of our recent and/or relevant cases, or highlighting aspects of your work experience or education which relates to the type of work or the sectors the firm is involved in.”
Those who pass the initial review go on to complete a Watson Glaser critical thinking test. While Ince is “ideally looking for scores of 75% and above” on this, Eleftheriou stresses that the firm considers each candidate's application as a whole when determining who to interview. “Whilst the psychometric test is important we consider it alongside the rest of the candidate’s application when shortlisting candidates for interview.”
Direct training contract applicants invited to interview are first asked to complete several timed exercises: a spelling and grammar test, a drafting exercise, and an in-tray task, wherein they receive a bunch of emails and have to prioritise them. The in-tray exercise is then discussed during an interview with a partner and a member of the graduate recruitment team. This interview also includes questions around their application, their motivations for pursuing a career at Ince, and if they have completed a vacation scheme with the firm, their experience on their placement.
As for vac scheme hopefuls, instead of completing those three exercises above, they're given a business scenario and 15 minutes to prepare for it. An interview with a graduate recruitment team member and a partner about the task follows. Candidates who join us on the vacation scheme are given an automatic interview for the training contract following their placement.
Ince's vac scheme lasts for two weeks over the Easter period. Attendees are able to attain work from anyone across the firm, not just the partner (and trainee) that they are assigned to. “The onus is very much on vac schemers to go and get their own work,” says Eleftheriou. “While their supervising partner will give them some work initially, they'll soon find themselves walking around the office, finding their own matters. It's therefore a pretty accurate reflection of what it's like as an Ince trainee.”
There are also a few practice area presentations, a walking tour that takes in landmarks like the Lloyd's building, and lunch, afternoon tea and evening drinks with trainees and graduate recruitment.
How to wow
Future trainees here need to be “proactive and with a good sense of initiative,” Eleftheriou says, mentioning the firm's non-departmental set-up. It's also important to display “a genuine enthusiasm and a commitment to the type of work that Ince does. We encourage trainees to seek out a variety of work across the course of their training so confidence and a proactive approach is key.”
The firm tends to look for an AAB at A level and a minimum 2:1 degree, though Eleftheriou reveals that “if someone has had a dip during their studies but the other areas of their application are strong, then there's a high chance we would put them through to take the Watson Glaser test.”
Common shipping terms
If you like the idea of a shipping seat but don't know your allisions from your collisions, fear not! Click here for a list of some of the most common shipping terms bandied about.
Ince & Co
1 St Katharine's Way,
- Partners Approx 90 (worldwide)
- Total trainees 18 (worldwide)
- Contact Shalini Chawla, recruitment and resourcing Manager
- Method of application Online at graduates. incelaw.com
- Selection procedure Online application, psychometric test, written exercises and a HR partner interview
- Closing date for 2019 31 July 2017
- Training contracts pa Up to 8
- Applications pa 600
- % interviewed pa 5%
- Required degree grade 2:1
- Training salary
- First year: £37,000
- Second year: £41,000
- Holiday entitlement 25 days
- % of trainees with a non-law degree pa 50%
- Post-qualification salary £62,000
- % of trainees offered job on qualification (2015) 89%
- % of partners (as at 2014) who joined as trainees Approx 70%
- Overseas offices Beijing, Cologne, Dubai, Hamburg, Hong Kong, Le Havre, Monaco, Paris, Piraeus, Shanghai, Singapore.
Main areas of work
Duration: two weeks
Remuneration: £250 pw
Closing date: 31 January 2017
Sponsorship & awards
GDL: fees; £6,500 grant for study in London and Guildford, £6,000 grant for study elsewhere.