Ohio-founded megabrand Jones Day liberates its trainees from the rigmarole of seat rotations.
They may take our seats, but they'll never take our...
'Freedom!' shout trainees at Jones Day, probably in a gruff Scottish accent. No, this doesn't mean the firm likes to hire Scottish warlords; it's a reference to the unparalleled freedom Jones Day affords its trainees as it casts aside the shackles of the traditional seat system. And the trainees all thought this freedom was worth shouting about – albeit it in a more restrained, lawyerly manner than Mel Gibson. “Here I knew I'd be able to follow a deal through beyond the constraints of a seat,” said one, adding: “If that deal then developed contentious elements I could go on to explore them in the litigation team as well.” Clearly this offers huge benefits as a learning process. However, training partner David Smith explains that "trainees can qualify having worked consistently in one area throughout the two years – not full time by any stretch (they have to sample different areas), but if they wanted to qualify into corporate, for instance, there shouldn't be a period of six or even 12 months where they've done no corporate work at all.”
This system echoes a more entrepreneurial training style favoured by many top law firms in the US, of which Jones Day is one of the biggest names. London is but one of 43 Jones Day offices, which cover 18 countries across five continents; it holds its head up high as one of the largest law firms in the world with over 2,500 lawyers racking up a global revenue that reportedly nudges the $2 billion mark. As the largest office outside of the US, London has an important role to play: “We are well positioned to service clients who want to instruct us around the world,” says Smith. Trainees therefore frequently work on international matters, which on occasion require trips to other offices in the network. The only formal secondment available, however, is a six-month stint in Dubai.
Has the vote for Brexit dimmed London's attractiveness as a well-connected centre for international business? “It's created challenges for us all,” Smith admits, “but it's created opportunities as well. Despite concerns about a downturn in transactions, we have seen transactional activity remain fairly solid. We've also seen an increase in regulatory work as we advise clients on the changes coming up.” A look at JD London's Chambers UK rankings show that the office packs a wallop with its civil fraud, litigation, real estate finance and mid-market corporate work. In terms of practice growth, Smith tells us that building up the office's private equity offering is on the agenda.
Trainee Jones' diary
Upon arrival, trainees are “taken to a desk and told to go and knock on whoever's door to find work. You have a partner and a second-year trainee mentor, so they're usually your first port of call, but the whole firm is open to you.” Roaming the halls in search of work or responding to capacity emails soon becomes familiar to trainees, but seniors also approach them with opportunities once people get to know each other better. Our sources recommended nabbing a spot on the firm's vacation scheme to test whether this non-rotational system works for you: “It's massively useful as it’s an exact replica of the training contract.” Also: the firm recruits pretty much exclusively through its vac scheme.
"You have to be able to take charge of your workload.”
So what kind of person do you need to be to thrive at JD London? “You have to be confident, proactive and able to take charge of your workload – otherwise you'll just sit there and only bill two hours a day,” sources replied. This point about workload is an important one, as newbies must be careful not to take on too much at one time. “It always takes around two to three months to experiment and figure out what your limit is – that varies from one individual to another.” Interviewees generally spent this time “hopping onto some big deals to get known while also ensuring exposure to other areas.”
An average day runs from 9am to 7pm, but with trainees settling on different limits, work schedules do vary. Some said the latest they'd stay in the office was 11pm, while others were keen “to take on as much as I physically can,” resulting in regular early morning finishes: “The people who like operating at 100% and being slammed all the time will find that if something unexpected comes in late in the day they could be in the office until 3am.” When deals or cases come to a head long hours can be unavoidable: “My worst week involved staying after 10pm every night and working two Sundays.” Still, with a training and qualification salary at the top end of the London market – £100,000 for NQs – interviewees were content, but did point to other US shops that fork out more.
Shopping for a good deal
While trainees are free to nose around JD's departments, they do have to tick off a checklist of SRA requirements to ensure they complete a variety of work. Trainees tend to gravitate towards corporate, litigation, real estate, and banking and finance, but plenty also sample areas like competition, employment, energy, IP, regulatory, restructuring and tax. NQs can qualify into all these areas.
Takeovers, disposals, joint ventures and M&A deals are all covered by JD's corporate department, which handles both mid-market and high-end transactions. Real estate, life sciences, defence and aerospace are key sectors here: the group recently acted for real estate investor DV4 as a £1.4 billion joint venture was formed to create a London-based home rental business; US pharma and medical equipment manufacturer GE Healthcare also called upon the team as it acquired Rapidscan Pharma Solutions under an agreement governed by both English and Delaware law. One trainee told us that “there hasn't been one deal which has been entirely UK-centric.” Assisting with scheduling and due diligence are common trainee tasks, but “you also get to draft principal documents under supervision, as well as ancillary documents where you're left to your own devices – everything's checked, but they're very keen to get you involved.” Client contact is common, as trainees are “encouraged to get on the phone and build up a rapport with the client to make the deal easier.”
Those tackling banking and finance matters get very familiar with the conditions precedent list: “You're in charge of the whole CP process and it's a classic project management role for a trainee. Running up to completion you'll be liaising with foreign counsel and the other side to make sure the documents are present and correct.” Though stressful, trainees felt that it “gives you a good idea of how everything works from start to finish and where the bottlenecks might lie in negotiations.” Other tasks involved reviewing loan documents and putting together the first draft of heftier security documents. “If you want responsibility, you will get it,” sources told us. “You're encouraged to want it, as it's the only way to develop.” Deals here cover a broad range of leveraged, real estate, structured and commodity finance matters. The department's books therefore contain a diverse crowd, including Bank of America Merrill Lynch, multinational mining company Eurasian Natural Resources and MIRAEL, the European fund management arm of Australian investment bank Macquarie.
“There hasn't been one deal which has been entirely UK-centric.”
JD's real estate team counts some of the UK's leading real estate investment trusts (British Land) and property investors (Delancey) as long-standing clients. The group is particularly well regarded for its work involving student accommodation and distribution centres, but trainees noted a fair amount of retail-oriented work, like British Land's £67 million acquisition of a block of shops in Plymouth's city centre. Other highlights include advising Goldman Sachs on a £2-billion-plus student housing joint venture with the Wellcome Trust, and acting for a real estate fund as it made a multimillion-pound offer to takeover Pinewood Group, which owns – you guessed it – Pinewood film studios. The headline here is that “trainees can run their own files. For example, when a retail park was purchased I managed the day-to-day work, like licence alterations and lease renewals. It's great responsibility and you get direct contact with the client.” On those larger deals (like the Goldman highlight above), responsibility isn't quite as high: “You'll do lease reviews and due diligence, create sale packs to upload to data rooms, and formulatebasic replies to enquiries.”
Over in litigation, fraud cases are complex and jurisdiction-busting: JD has been acting for 37 investment vehicles – covering around 700 high net worth individuals – as they pursue a £65 million claim tied to a failed carbon credits trading scheme involving parties in China, the UK, Switzerland and the British Virgin Islands. Head-scratching enough for ya? However, it is “a generalist department,” so trainees had jumped on a variety of cases. Other recent gems have seen the team advise the joint liquidators of BHS as they investigate whether the actions of the company's directors led to its collapse; and act for auction house Bonhams in a number of proceedings related to the sale of a 1954 Ferrari 375 Plus – remarkably, this case stretched back 30 years and required assistance from lawyers in JD's Columbus, Milan, Paris, Atlanta and Boston offices.
"People rely on you to know what everyone is talking about.”
Sources who'd dabbled in the litigation group started off with “the standard trainee tasks” like bundling, disclosure and doc review. “Once you've done all of that basic trainee work the responsibility ramps up: you're researching, as well as drafting correspondence, claim forms, witness statements and affidavits. You end up being involved in everything that needs to be carried out.” With this in mind, one trainee concluded that “you're basically the closest person to most of the documents, so you need to be organised, involved and willing to take ownership – people rely on you to know what everyone is talking about.”
Not so gung-ho
Trainees agreed that the non-rotational system left little room for “wallflowers,” but laughed off the image of warrior-trainees battling it out for the best work. “People sometimes think you need to be a super gung-ho person, knocking on doors loudly and making a big impression, but I don't think that's the case. People will find you interesting – you don't need to be over the top.” They rejected “the chest-thumping, 'eat what you kill' preconception of an American law firm,” highlighting that the non-rotational model creates a softer edge: “It can only work if people are friendly. People need to be open to having people come and talk to them, so it influences the social dynamics of the firm, laying the foundations for everyone to be personable. We don't hesitate to speak to partners.” At the same time, trainees appreciated being paired up alone in offices instead of sitting with supervisors: “It's nice to have a good sounding boardandsomeone to bounce stupid questions off.”
Given the cosy dynamics described, it came as no surprise to hear that trainees happily march arm-in-arm to their local pub, The Harrow, most Fridays. “Everyone goes and the partners are very good at putting a tab behind the bar.” The office – which can be found just off of London's bustling Fleet Street – boasts an on-site canteen, 'Cafe 21,' which also provides a further outlet for hobnobbing: “They'll host themed events there, like a Chinese New Year lunch or an India-inspired evening reception.” Such international celebrations are in keeping with the firm's overall message of connectivity, summed up nicely in its 'one firm worldwide' slogan. The work alone produces plenty of cross-office chit-chat, but trainees also get to jet off to the DC HQ to meet “all the new joiners starting at the firm that year.” A little training and plenty of mingling moved one trainee to declare it “the best week of the training contract.”
“The partners are very good at putting a tab behind the bar."
Trainees approaching qualification could be forgiven for reminiscing about that carefree trip, free of qualification nerves – but there isn't too much for JD's trainees to worry about. The qualification process is quite informal: trainees are typically spared an interview, and barring a rush for a certain department (as happened in 2016, when rates were slightly lower than they traditionally had been), interviewees were confident that JD's “culture of long term recruitment” would see them through. In the end, 16 of 21 qualifiers stayed in 2017.
Trainees may get the chance to work on pro bono cases, such as "fighting for people in the US who have been given the death penalty." The firm also has links with the Waterloo Legal Advice Service and the Bingham Centre.
How to get a Jones Day training contract
Vacation scheme deadlines: 27 October 2017 (winter scheme); 15 December 2017 (spring scheme); 10 January 2018 (summer scheme). Now accepting applications.
Jones Day recruits almost exclusively from its work placement (aka vacation schemes) in the winter, spring and summer holidays, so anyone gunning for a training contract with the firm is advised to apply for a placement in the first instance. The firm offers approximately 20 training contracts each year.
According to recruitment partner David Smith, the application process is “as simple as possible to give as many candidates as possible a fair chance. There are no video interviews, psychometric tests or assessment centres – not even additional questions specific to the firm to answer on the application form; we just ask students to provide an online CV and a covering letter.”
He continues: “We are looking for somebody who has done a lot with their life so far, beyond just good academics. We're never blinded by the fact someone's gone to Oxbridge or another top university, and we do give some latitude to people whose results aren't perfect if they show other potential.”
Unlike many firms, Jones Day is not opposed to occasionally recruiting candidates without the required academic credentials (AAA at A level and 2.1 degree), provided they show enough potential. It has also integrated Rare's contextual recruitment system into its recruitment process in order to better understand an applicant's potential in the context of their school's average student attainment. When such potential is spotted, the firm has, for example, recruited graduates without A levels and with an Open University degree.
When it comes to the covering letter, the trainees we spoke with advised “using it as an opportunity to explain why you want the job and a future at Jones Day. Look at how Jones Day operates, the way it trains and the work it does, and link its practices to your interests. You can learn a lot from chatting to Jones Day trainees and other lawyers at their 'Question Time' events and London open evenings, which anyone can attend – just sign up via the website.”
Applicants who pique the firm's interest are invited to an interview with two partners, followed by coffee with a current trainee. “Mine was a chat rather than a grilling,” recalled a trainee. “They use your CV to lead you into a conversation you're comfortable with as they feel that will get the best out of you.” Another relayed how “they asked for my opinions on the Six Nations because I'd mentioned I was a rugby player. There aren't any of those out-of-the-box questions like, 'What fish would you like to be?'”
The firm runs a series of placement schemes throughout the year during the winter, spring and summer vacations. Each placement is two weeks long, and there are around 72 places up for grabs across the schemes. Jones Day received some 1,800 applications in total for its four placement schemes in 2016/17.
Placement candidates shouldn't expect a carefree fortnight of drinks receptions and trainee lunches. “It's set up very similarly to the training contract,” a trainee told us. “There are a few talks from different practice areas and an introduction to the online systems, and then they put you in a 'hub' with four or five other candidates and tell you to knock on some doors. It's terrifying in those first moments, but everyone knows the position you're in, so they're incredibly friendly and give you some work.”
“We're always honest in our recruiting in that we allow candidates to see what it's like working in our firm and training in our system,” Smith explains of the decision to eschew a more standardised placement scheme. “Participants don't just do workshops throughout their two weeks; they're given tasks they can have a stab at so that they know what the training contract will be like and whether it's the right fit for them.”
As a trainee source pointed out: “You have to be confident enough to source your work, manage your time and supervise yourself to succeed – they look to see this in action since these aren't things the firm can test just through an interview.” Indeed, Smith confirms the programme “attracts students who want some flexibility, responsibility and control when they come into the training contract. It suits people who are confident and ambitious, though it's important they have a bit of humility as well.”
Toward the end of their placement with the firm, candidates complete another interview, again with two partners, in a final bid for a training contract.
More on the non-rotational training contract
As we mentioned in the main True Picture feature, Jones Day eschews a traditional seat system in favour of a non-rotational one in which most trainees start by taking work from several areas and eventually use that experience to choose one area they want to specialise in. “At first it's common to do work with the people whose offices are near yours, especially if you aren't sure what area you're interested in,” said a trainee, but eventually rookies venture further from their desks to seek out work in an area of their choosing. Another interviewee explained: “I spent my first year meeting new people and getting a taste of the work in different departments. By the second year, I knew which kind of work I enjoyed and gravitated towards those groups.”
What you think of JD's seatless system “really depends on the type of person you are,” reflected one trainee. “If you're not the kind of person who's happy to go out there and introduce yourself to others, it will not suit you.” Our other sources concurred: “You need to be quite bold, as you're essentially dropped in the deep end and get a lot of responsibility very quickly.” Still, we can't stress enough how much JD's trainees appreciate the firm's lack of formal seats. “I absolutely love it,” one gushed. “If you actively throw yourself into it, it's 100% a brilliant system.”
We asked trainee recruitment and development manager Diana Spoudeas why the firm employs this non-rotational training set-up. She says it all goes back to the early 1980s, when City law firms were starting to boom. Up until then, trainees (or articled clerks, as they were called at the time) didn't do proper seats; they just spent two years with a firm and gained exposure to the whole variety of work a high-street solicitors' practice would typically see (as required by the Law Society).
However, around 1980 many firms shifted toward a set-up favouring large, distinct departments. To ensure trainees continued to meet Law Society requirements to experience a variety of work, City firms introduced the seat system in which trainees rotate through a number of departments. As the story goes, the then senior partner at Gouldens (the City-slicker that went on to merge with Jones Day in the early 2000s) didn't like the sound of this at all. He reasoned: “I want our articled clerks to be entrepreneurial and innovative. Give them an office and a bag [sic] and let them make sure they get the variety of work they need.”
The Law Society, however, was sceptical this could work. Diana Spoudeas herself was actually an articled clerk with the firm during this period. As a guinea pig for the new system, she decided to keep a diary of the work she did – this formed the basis of the checklist JD trainees now have to complete to prove they have satisfied SRA requirements. Halfway through her clerkship, Spoudeas was summoned by the Law Society to report on her progress. They grilled her about what she had done over the course of the year. According to Spoudeas, they were impressed, exclaiming “you've done so much more than most articled clerks!” And so the non-rotational system was allowed to stay.
Another hallmark of JD's training contract we should mention is the extensive cross-office and international nature of the work. “People think international work is cool and sexy, but so much of our work is international that it would probably be considered sexier to work on a domestic deal!” one trainee quipped. The firm doesn't offer formal overseas seats –“it would basically contradict how we do things around here if the firm decided to have fixed overseas seats”– but trainees do occasionally travel abroad for work, and the firm sometimes sends some to its Dubai branch for a brief stint (usually between four and six months). Client secondments are available on an ad hoc basis if clients reach out to JD to request a helping hand from trainees.
21 Tudor Street,
- Partners approx 60
- Associates approx 100
- Total trainees approx 40
- UK offices London
- Overseas offices 44
- Diana Spoudeas, trainee recruitment and development manager:
- David Smith - Training Partner
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 20
- Applications pa: 1,800
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1
- Minimum A levels/IB points: AAA/36
- Vacation scheme places pa: 72
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: 1 September 2017
- Training contract deadline, 2020 start: 10 January 2018
- Vacation scheme applications open: 1 September 2017
- Vacation scheme, 2018 deadline: 10 January 2018
- Salary and benefits (2017)
- First-year salary: £47,000
- Second-year salary: £54,000
- Post-qualification salary: £100,000
- Holiday entitlement: 25 days
- LPC fees: Yes
- GDL fees: Yes
- Maintenance grant pa: £9,000
- International and regional
- Overseas offices: Continental Europe, Asia, USA, Latin America, Middle East, Asia Pacific
- Overseas secondments: Dubai
Main areas of work
Final deadlines are: 27 October 2017 (winter scheme); 15 December 2017 (spring scheme); 10 January 2018 (summer scheme and training contracts).
Opportunities to meet us