Catch of the day? Shipping, energy, insurance and aviation, which trainees can savour as much as they like thanks to Ince's fluid training contract.
When the ancient Phocaeans struck out across the Mediterranean Sea to claim and settle what's now modern day Marseille, they had no idea that 27 centuries later, shipping aficionado Ince & Co would be following in their footsteps. Well, sort of. As of January 2017, London-headquartered Ince became the first international law firm to grab itself a base in France's largest port. The new Marseille office, which currently houses just two partners, has set out to target shipping clients active in the Mediterranean and North Africa.
Marseille became the 13th office in the firm's global fleet, launched just months after Ince opened an insurance-focused office in Cologne in October 2016. Shipping makes up half of Ince's business; the firm hauls in a wealth of Chambers rankings in this area around the globe, most notably in Europe and Asia. Ince is also a dab hand when it comes to the insurance, energy, international trade and aviation sectors.
Most of the work Ince handles has a contentious slant to it: “Around 70% of our current work revolves around litigation but we're looking to redress the balance and ultimately have a 50/50 split between litigious and transactional work,” trainees told us. Consequently shipping finance, energy projects, corporate work and insurance policy advice are all areas likely to be targeted for growth in the coming years.
The firm's currently sailing on calmer seas, after making it through stormy waters a few years back when partner departures, falling revenue and merger rumours were frequently highlighted by the legal press. Sources last year told us that the recent office move to Aldgate Tower in the City had “drawn a line under” this rocky period and this year added: “I think there's a genuine feeling that's all behind us now; you can feel a more positive atmosphere in the office.”
“The onus is on you to go out there and get work.”
There's a lot of fluidity betweenpractice groups, so although trainees are officially berthed in a specific department, they can catch work from any group and take their matters with them when they move. “Everywhere I've sat I've carried over work from that group into the next seat for a month or two,” one trainee told us, though we spoke to plenty of people who'd stuck with a matter for much longer. “It's great not having tohand a case over right as it goes to court and end up thinking 'that's my case and someone else is getting all the glory!'” another source added. “You know the matter inside out – you're not just dipping your toe in it.”
However, nearly all our sources were quick to point out that the system comes with its downsides: “You could get assigned to a huge case in your first seat – which you don't get to choose – and be stuck on it for two years,” with limited capacity to pick up matters in other areas. Most of our interviewees were keen to see some tweaks to the current system, “which isn't working as well as it should. If you're ballsy you can have a great time – you really have to make your own training contract.”
If you're keen to nab work in certain areas or from specific partners, we heard it's best to make those intentions known in person. “The onus is on you to go out there and get work. You also need to have the confidence to ask for help or push back if someone asks you to take on something when you're already at capacity.”
Atlantik (no) Confidence
Around 90% of the work handled by Ince's shipping department used to centre around litigation claims, but in recent years it's been upping its ship-related transactions and projects work. The firm represents charterers, shipowners like Danaos, insurers like HDI Global and P&I (protection & indemnity) Clubs, such as the imaginatively-named UK P&I club. Shipping work is either wet or dry. The former deals with accidents at sea, while the latter revolves around the commercial and contracts side of the industry. If, for example, a captain ploughs his 1,200 foot New Panamax into another container ship, that's wet work. But if it's an investor ploughing millions of pounds into a ship building contract that goes south, that's dry work.
A stint in wet shipping therefore comes with hijackings, collisions, salvage operations and groundings. The firm recently represented Norwegian indemnity insurers Gard during a $170 million 'unsafe port' claim, after its insured ship Ocean Victorywas advised to leave a Japanese port in a gale and was subsequently struck by breakwater, grounded and broken apart. Ince also acted for a group of cargo owners in an $80 million dispute with the shipowners of bulker carrier Atlantik Confidence, who deliberately sunk the vessel off the coast of Oman as part of an insurance scam. Interviewees told us that tasks here can be “slightly mundane. When you're on a big case there's a lot of data and document review to go through,” as well as plenty of bundling. “But there's also practical work like looking through log books and interpreting what the master has said about the voyage.” Others had prepared exhibits for court, reviewed bills of lading (the cargo list), and helped draft instructions to expert witnesses and claims forms for the arrest of ships.
“...interpreting what the master has said about the voyage.”
'Dry shipping' encompasses a plethora of contract spats and regulatory and compliance work. Cargo disputes are also pretty frequent, whether that's dealing with the fallout from unstable cargo damaging a vessel or assisting cargo owners if their product is damaged in transit. Shipowners Sea Powerful recently called upon Ince to assist it with a $10 million dispute over whether cargo was delivered to the right person. Like wet shipping matters, the trainee role can be dominated by bundling and doc review, though our sources had also had the chance to draft submissions, advice to clients and correspondence with expert witnesses.
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. The department has recently witnessed an uptick in international cases, especially those involving parties in China and the Middle East. Heavyweight insurers Chubb, RSA and QBE are all on the client roster. Insurers XL Catlin have called upon the group of late, first to assist it with a compensation dispute with AXA and AIG following a deadly head-on train collision in California back in 2008, and second to advise it on the insurance aspects of 'Black Saturday': a day in 2009 which saw bushfires kill 173 people in Australia.
“I think it's a great area to get responsibility,” one source told us. “I've not seen too many admin tasks. Instead I'm helping to conduct the investigation into the legal position on a case, so I've conducted some very interesting research.” Others had drafted pre-action letters of claim and advised clients on the merits of a case. Another told of jaunts out of the office to interview witnesses: “The partner led the meeting but I was able to jump in and ask a few questions.”
Down in the muck here, under the sea
Ince's energy group acts for many of the world's energy drilling contractors, such as Rowan International, but you'll also find energy-focused private equity investors Bluewater, geotech surveyors Fugro and underwater engineers Subsea 7 here too. Trainees can pick up both contentious and non-contentious work, with the former predominantly revolving around contract and supply disputes. Non-contentious matters can involve assisting with the decommissioning of oil rigs or advising clients on regulatory work and contractual issues – the team recently helped client Deugro Denmark (the offshore wind branch of logistics company Deugro) with its contracts governing the supply of transport vessels to carry wind turbine components, for example.
Matters are often pretty colossal in size, so our interviewees had expended a considerable amount of their own energy going through documents: “I was told to investigate and look through emails to work out what people were saying about the issues in the dispute, before putting a research note together on it for the counsel and partner.” Others had got stuck into disclosure exercises and assisted senior associates on factual queries.
“You really have to stay on top of your communications with the client.”
Interviewees who'd dabbled in aviation work had handled 100s of delayed flight claims, “which can be quite hard to manage; you really have to stay on top of your communications with the client and the other side.” On the upsidethese cases are “low in value, so you get a lot of responsibility,” one source told us. “I took instructions from clients, liaised with them to get evidence and then drafted a defence, which was reviewed by a senior associate before I filed it with the court. I had a few cases which went all the way to a hearing so I also ended up appointing a barrister.”
Overseas seats have occasionally reared their sun-kissed head at Ince, but the firm has recently made a trip to Monaco a permanent fixture: “At every rotation there'll be a new trainee there.” The petite office is only home to two permanent lawyers, so trainees who'd journeyed to help them found their role was “a big step up from the one we have in London. Our Monaco office acts like an in-house service for a lot of our big Monaco clients, so we do everything from shipping to international trade to corporate bits and bobs. Living in the south of France is amazing too!”
All hands on deck
Given the pick n' mix approach to gaining work at Ince, sources found their hours could be pretty inconsistent. Generally they were putting in the grind between 9.30am and 7 to 8pm, but noted that a variable workload means “sometimes you work a 40-hour week, sometimes a 70-hour one.” This fluid structure can also leave trainees working for several partners at once, which many sources felt was beneficial: “It's good training for the future, as once you qualify you'll be dealing with different demands from clients who don't understand how heavy your workload is. Managing your workload on the training contract prepares you for that – you don't have someone acting as a parent figure here.” That said, each new starter is assigned a second-year buddy to help them find their feet.
Ince's new digs were also given the thumbs up: “The move to open plan has changed the way people work – we're much more collaborative now,” trainees enthused. “If you want to work for someone it's much easier to sidle up to them in the kitchen while they're making coffee than to knock on their door.” Now that everyone's lumped together “there are no intimidating barriers between trainees, associates and partners. Without offices it's harder to tell what everyone's position is.” Another told us: “It's incredibly friendly. You can talk to and have a laugh with anyone, and everyone pitches in together to help out on issues.” Although one source did mourn “no longer being able to go into someone's office for a chin-wag.”
Still, there are other chances to get those tongues wagging; after dying down in the wake of the office move, socialising at the firm is on the up again. 'Ince Drinks' take place once every two months, while most weeks encompass a trip down the pub at some point. Ince also has its own football team and a sailing club (of course there's a sailing club), but if anyone would rather sing than experience being 'in peril on the sea'they can sign up for Ince's choir. The most glamorous event of the year is the firm's May Ball, held in 2017 at the Grange Tower Bridge Hotel. There's also an NQ party in September, organised by the recent qualifiers to celebrate their new-found lawyerly status. The qualification process simply involves a chat with HR after they've checked out everyone's performance reviews. In 2017 nine of ten qualifying trainees were retained by the firm.
The industries that Ince works in produce many an international matter, so being able to speak other languages is a plus.
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How to get into Ince & Co
Training contract deadline (2020): 31 July 2018 (opens 1 February 2018)
Application and assessment
Ince & Co typically receives between 300 and 600 direct training contract applications each year, and between 300 and 500 trainee recruitment placement scheme applications. There are ten training contracts and ten work placement 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. Legal 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 psychometric test results are important, Eleftheriou stresses that the firm considers each candidate's application as a whole when determining who to interview.
Interview and assessment centre
Direct training contract applicants who are invited to interview are first asked to complete an in-tray exercise with a partner and a member of the graduate recruitment team, wherein they receive a selection of emails and have to prioritise them. Candidates who are successful at this stage are invited back for an assessment day, which involves a client pitch exercise, lunch with current trainees, a drafting exercise and an interview with a partner and a member of the graduate recruitment team. This interview includes questions on the candidate's application, their motivations for pursuing a career at Ince and the competencies that the firm looks for.
Those who are hoping to nab a spot on Ince's trainee recruitment placement scheme do not attend an assessment centre. Instead, they are invited to complete the in-tray exercise and an interview with a graduate recruitment team member and a partner. Candidates who make it onto the scheme are then interviewed for the training contract at the end of their placement – this interview is also conducted by a partner and a member of the graduate recruitment team.
Trainee Recruitment Placement Scheme
Ince's work placement 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.”
Attendees also attend an induction which includes presentations on each of the firm’s sectors. There are also a number of social events to look forward to, including a walking tour of the City, a tour of 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
2 Leman Street,
- Partners 49 (100 worldwide)
- Associates qualified in England and Wales 52 (115 worldwide)
- Trainees 20
- Total staff (550 worldwide)
- UK offices London
- Overseas offices 12
- Contact [email protected]
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 10
- Applications pa: 600
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1
- Minimum A levels: AAB
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract deadline, 2020 start: 31 July 2018
- Vacation scheme 2018 deadline: 31 January 2018
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £37,750
- Second-year salary: £41,800
- Post-qualification salary: £63,250
- Holiday entitlement: 25 days
- LPC fees: Yes (£7,000 grant for study in London and Guildford, £6,500 elsewhere)
- GDL fees: Yes; (£7,000 grant for study in London and Guildford, £6,000 elsewhere)
Our success is built upon always taking a collaborative and innovative approach by looking for new ways to apply legal strategies and create new law. While our international presence and world leading reputation was initially built on shipping and insurance, we have successfully explored new territory and established our expertise across a number of specific industries.
We have invested heavily in IT and infrastructure, supporting agile working and relocating to modern offices in London and Hong Kong, with employees now working from Surface Pro 4s.
Ince regularly hosts client events throughout the year in our dedicated client suites, including annual shipping and insurance parties; Ince also hosts events internally, including the annual black tie May Ball and monthly ‘Ince drinks’, which is a great opportunity to get to know people from across the firm.
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