Fortune favours the bold in Jones Day's non-rotational training contract.
Seize the Day
Do you find yourself recoiling from drab training convention? Then say hello to US giant Jones Day's training contract. Think of it like this: trainees at firms with a standard four-seat system slowly trot their way through four distinct dances – but at JD they get to freestyle. There are no seats, and trainees simply seek out the work they want.
Yes, JD's trainees like to be in the driver's seat. “I can be in charge of what I'm doing and carve my own path,” one trainee enthused, while another explained: “Choosing who to work for is a big plus. I can keep things fresh by spending the morning on litigation and the afternoon on M&A due diligence. If I find I don't like something I can just move on and do something else.”
“English law is becoming more and more attractive to international clients."
So what keeps JD London a hive of activity? “London is a linchpin for the US, Middle East and Europe,” Smith replies. “English law is becoming more and more attractive to international clients, so we are very well placed to handle their needs.” The office certainly has a vast network to tap into for work: JD has a whopping 44 offices spread across 19 countries and five continents, making it the seventh largest firm in the world by head count.
“You're probably considered quite exotic if you don't work on something with an international element,” one trainee joked. While you can expect to navigate multiple time zones on most matters, there's not much in the way of overseas secondments: a six-month stint in Dubai is currently the only sojourn on offer.
Day and night?
Every trainee is allocated a partner mentor and second-year trainee mentor on arrival. These two can pass trainees their first piece of work, but newbies are strongly encouraged to hop onto matters by responding to capacity emails or roaming the halls instead. “In the beginning you just need to decide who to chat with. After a while people start coming back to you, which reduces the burden of having to go out and find work.”
It's not a set-up that works for everyone, so it's worth taking this training contract for a test drive first. Nearly all of JD's trainees arrive through the vac scheme, which exposes students to the non-rotational system for a fortnight. “It's the best way to really know if it's for you,” insiders advised. “Some people decided very early on it wasn't for them. Others loved the freedom it gave them.”
"You definitely need to be bold!”
Trainees need to be responsible too, as having so much freedom can make it easy for newbies to take on too much work. “You've got to look after yourself,” one source warned. Gauging the right amount can be a tricky art to perfect, as this trainee revealed: “It's common to experience conflicting deadlines and priorities. Sometimes you have to let someone down – managing expectations is one of the harder parts of the training contract.” Luckily many of JD's lawyers once passed through this system, so we're assured they're fairly merciful.
Hours can be less forgiving. “In a conventional seat system you may work terrible hours in M&A and then switch to tax and consistently leave at 6pm,” an interviewee explained. “Here you don't get that break. It's down to you to make sure you're busy enough but not permanently working late.” We hear ten or 11-hour days are typical, with many sources clocking up at least one early morning finish. Still, with a training and qualification salary at the higher end of the London market, trainees felt well compensated for their time.
Dr Jones, wake up now
JD's corporate practice packs a punch with its mid-market work in London, earning it a top-ranking in Chambers UK. A raft of private equity and investment management hotshots are on the books, including Blackstone, Invesco and J.F. Lehman & Company. Much of the work has a real estate bent, sources explained. Lawyers here recently acted for property investment company Hansteen Holdings as it sold its £192.1 million UK industrial property portfolio to investors Brockton Capital and developers Dunedin Property. Another highlight saw the team advise Chinese real estate developer Vanke on its first investment in Europe: a stake in a £750 million mixed-use development in trendy Shoreditch.
Most trainees tend to assist on M&A and private equity deals where “it automatically falls to us to do a lot of the due diligence. It's not everyone's favourite thing to do.” The run-up to completion sees trainees updating an array of ancillary documents: “I was amending and recirculating 200 things at one point!” Interviewees had usually acted as the “main point of contact” for client queries. “I couldn't answer them myself,” one insider conceded, “but I would pull together the right people for the answer.” Some also reported liaising with clients to “ensure the documents we were drafting reflected their intentions.” As for flexing those writing muscles, our sources had penned the usual mix of board minutes, directors' notices and ancillary documents. On smaller deals, a couple were able to get stuck into meatier documents, such as “warranties and sale and purchase agreements.”
“People try to give you the chance to develop.”
Those who'd sampled banking matters worked on a similar mix of ancillaries and “higher-level things like security documents for a financing.” Their advice for bagging those juicier assignments? “You have to be proactive. If you say you've not had much drafting experience or not taken on a specific role, most people try to give you the chance to develop.” Speaking up pays off: some trainees, we hear, had even completed a signing by themselves.
However, managing the conditions precedent list is the primary responsibility in banking: “We have to check that all ancillary documents are present and that the stipulated conditions are met.” Deals involving multiple jurisdictions also gave sources plenty of opportunity to liaise with local counsel (a common task in most departments). Future trainees beware, as this can mean keeping track of a lot of people: the department recently worked with lawyers in Canada, Holland, Guernsey, Mauritius and Mozambique during a $500 million restructuring matter for Luxembourg-headquartered Eurasian Resources Group. Client-wise, you'll find both borrowers and lenders here, with international names including Société Générale, Wells Fargo and Macquarie Bank.
"You can't have a trainee acting like a bull in a china shop!”
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. Trainees here tackled the sale and purchase of commercial properties and property portfolios, with many staffed on deals occurring in the student housing sector. A highlight of late saw JD advise Goldman Sachs and real estate investors Greystar on their acquisition of a £500 million student housing portfolio from investment company Knightsbridge. Interviewees on this kind of project conducted property due diligence and prepared documents for exchange and completion.
Other matters involved “handling leases for hotels and other businesses,” as well as “a lot of retail park management.” The latter “isn't that exciting,” but there are perks: “It's low-level so we can conduct negotiations and draft licences to assign or alter.” Trainees pegged this department as a good one to get started in, thanks to the availability of “really small matters like subleases, which you can do yourself.”
Litigation (or global disputes, as it's known at the firm), by contrast, afforded trainees less responsibility. Insiders put this down to the fact that cases here – often highly sensitive and lucrative – have to be steered by more experienced hands: “You can't have a trainee acting like a bull in a china shop on them!” Hefty fraud cases are something of a speciality (as reflected by another top Chambers UK ranking for civil fraud). One has kept JD's litigators busy since 2005. It arose out of the largest fraud committed on the AIM market: JD's now recovered £35 million for out-of-pocket investors in fraud vehicle Langbar International, who brought a series of actions against its former chief exec Mariusz Rybak. Other highlights have seen the team grapple with the $1 billion fallout from the collapse of BVI-based private equity fund VDP, as well as an appeal resulting from one of JD's previous triumphs: client Texas Keystone's win against Excalibur's $1.6 billion claim for oil interests in Kurdistan.
Bigger doesn't necessarily mean better for trainees. “When we get a massive case there can be 70,000 documents involved, so you can get bogged down in a lot of doc management,” one source groaned. But, they qualified, “people's litigation experiences have been vastly different; some trainees worked on a freezing injunction which involved dealing with private investigators and going on a stake-out!” Trainees recommended making any qualification hopes known, as doing so exposed them to more substantive tasks like dealing with expert witnesses and drafting witness statements.
Days of our lives
“The non-rotational system doesn't lend itself to the traditional stereotype of bowing down to partners when they walk down the hallway,” one trainee declared. “Having to knock on doors creates an open environment; it feels like there's hardly any hierarchy here,” another agreed. Playing nice is a must, especially for trainees on the hunt for work: “It's not really the place to be if you're not friendly.”
But with all these go-getters flitting about, isn't the training environment quite competitive? “The trainees have different interests and that reduces some of the competitiveness,” claimed one respondent. “I prefer corporate work so I'm not banging down doors for real estate projects.” Some comforting retention rates – all 15 of 2015's qualifiers were retained – also help to diminish that competitive bite. Most of our second-year moles were “pretty confident” they'd be kept on. “It's more of a tap-on-the-shoulder approach,” one informed us, relieved that a barrage of qualification hoops weren't waiting to be jumped through. However, in 2016, JD's retention rate wasn't quite as good as it has been in previous years. It extended 12 NQ offers to its 16 qualifiers, and 11 accepted. As we went to press, the firm made it clear to us that it is committed to retaining its trainees, and that it has historically posted high retention rates.
“It's not really the place to be if you're not friendly.”
Back in Blighty, trainees considered themselves “quite a social bunch.” Weekly trips to local pub The Harrow are supplemented by ad hoc themed events in the firm's on-site 'Cafe 21': an all-you-can-eat buffet materialised for Chinese New Year, as did a Harley-Davidson motorcycle (definitely not edible) for a Fourth of July party. Cafe 21 popped up as part of a recent refurbishment programme at JD's 21 Tudor Street offices, which also saw the introduction of a fancy new gym.
Trainees share offices with each other instead of supervisors. “Cynics may say it's an opportunity to slack off but it allows you to have more flexibility and independence.”
How to get a Jones Day training contract
Vacation scheme deadlines: 28 October 2016 (winter scheme); 16 December 2016 (spring scheme); 13 January 2017 (summer scheme)
Jones Day recruits almost exclusively from its work placement (aka vacationschemes) 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 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. When potential is spotted, it has 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 1,600 applications in total for its four placement schemes in 2015/6.
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
- Assistant solicitors Approx 120
- Total trainees Approx 40
- Contact Diana Spoudeas, manager trainee recruitment and development
- Method of application Online via our website www.jonesdaylondon.com
- Selection procedure We recruit nearly all trainees from our placement schemes: one interview with two partners for placement scheme; further interview with two partners for training contract whilst on placement scheme Applications open early on 1 September 2016
- Closing date for 2016/17 placement schemes and 2019 training contracts 13 January 2017
- Placements pa 72
- Training contracts pa 20
- Applications pa 1,600
- % interviewed pa 20%
- Required degree grade 2:1
- Required A levels/IB AAA/36
- % trainees with a non-law degree 60%
- Training salary (2017)
- Start: £47,000
- After 12 months: £54,000
- Holiday entitlement Five weeks
- Post-qualification salary (2017) £100,000
- % of trainees offered job on qualification (average) 87%
- Overseas offices Continental Europe, Asia, USA, Latin America, Middle East, Asia Pacific
Main areas of work
Winter scheme: 28 October 2016
Spring scheme: 16 December 2016
Summer scheme and training contracts: 13 January 2017