LA hotshot Latham has global reach and a revenue that just won't quit: now it's on a mission to propel its London office to dizzying heights too.
Red hot Cali coffers
Latham & Watkins has done it again: for the third year in a row this California-grown firm has topped the American Lawyer 100 as the largest law firm in the world by revenue in 2016. Its revenue jumped 6.5% to $2.8 billion, which is the most ever generated by a law firm in a single fiscal year. So champagne all round then. Blasting the firm into the top spot once more was its global litigation practice, which chairman Bill Voge told the legal press had been “red hot,” though he also noted significant growth in the firm's M&A, banking, project finance, insolvency, life sciences and energy groups too.
Revenue wasn't the only thing heading skywards last year: Latham swept up 26 lateral partners in 2016, including ten who joined the London office from firms such as Allen & Overy, Ashurst, Herbert Smith Freehills and Quinn Emanuel. London's not quite done gobbling up the lateral talent though; it has plans to continue increasing its headcount and bolstering its disputes, financial institutions and regulatory practices. At the moment Latham's London base is more transaction-heavy, with top-tier Chambers UK rankings bestowed upon its banking & finance and capital markets work. Its litigation practice is highly regarded though, while other areas that perform well include corporate, energy, projects and private equity.
Unsurprisingly, it was wanting to work for “one of the best and most prestigious firms” that drove our sources towards this global Goliath. Other plus points included “the fact that this is the kind of firm where you can put your hand up to take on more responsibility,” as well as the smaller cohort size (around 24 each year): “I didn't want to get lost in the numbers!”
New recruits are contacted a few weeks before they join and asked for their first seat preferences. Before every subsequent seat change trainees submit a form with at least three preferences and have a lengthy conversation with grad recruitment about them. Everyone's required to complete a stint in corporate and a core finance seat (like banking, project finance, restructuring, structured finance and real estate finance). A contentious seat is also an option, though trainees can opt to take a short litigation course if disputes aren't really their thing. Also available are client secondments and overseas seats; trainees can rank these options as one of their seat preferences, but also need to submit a short application form “on why it would be good for your career.” While most sources felt the seat allocation process worked well for them, several did note that “there's not much transparency when it comes to explaining why you haven't got a seat you wanted.”
The corporate department is split into a number of smaller teams: M&A/private equity, capital markets, technology transactions (TTG) and private funds. Trainees can do a seat in each of these. M&A/PE provides English law advice to global companies and private equity houses, many of which are US-headquartered. Global office products manufacturer ACCO Brands is one such company, and Latham recently assisted it with its €296 million acquisition of European stationery suppliers Esselte. Other clients include Ernst & Young, Nissan Motors, Thomas Cook and big pharma biz Allergan.
With over 40 associates and 16 partners, the M&A team is not short of high-level operators and trainee tasks can veer toward the more basic end of the scale. “At that level you're running the deal checklists, getting the documents signed and keeping everyone in the loop.” Trainees are also responsible for running the due diligence process, contributing to the accompanying report and liaising with local counsel in places as far flung as Barbados: “You work with such a big group of people, you have to be a good communicator.” On some deals “you can get involved in drafting the ancillary documents and part of the main documents too,” one source told us. “I got to draft a clause in the facility agreement.” As you would expect from a global player like Latham, most deals will cover a few jurisdictions: the team here recently acted for affordable travel enabler Momondo Group as it was acquired for $550 million in a deal that spanned the UK, the USA, Denmark and China.
“You work with such a big group of people, you have to be a good communicator.”
The work in TTG is split between corporate support (such as assisting the corporate teams in London and New York with Credit Suisse's joint venture with Palantir Technologies); helping tech start-ups with the likes of privacy policies, IP protection and corporate governance; and outsourcing deals. One TTG interviewee had “really enjoyed conducting research on data protection – it wasn't like the heavy legal research you might do elsewhere, as you have to look into the policy side more.” Another added: “They very much presume your research is correct, so the pressure's on and you're hoping you get it right before it's used!” Corporate support work usually requires trainees to assist with due diligence, while outsourcing matters allow for “reviewing and understanding the contracts in a lot of detail.” Although there's “not a lot of drafting in this seat,” trainees can pick it up on tech-related pro bono work.
The 12-lawyer investment funds group became a standalone department three years ago. It predominantly serves private equity investors such as Carlyle, Argan Capital and Capvis on things like fund formations, acquisitions, regulatory compliance and governance structures. The international flavour is just as strong here: the team recently advised real estate investors LaSalle on the establishment of a $1 billion pan-Asian real estate fund. Trainees told of “providing regulatory advice tied to jurisdictions like Oman, Kazakhstan, Central and Southern America, as well as conducting filings in the Netherlands, Austria, Germany and the UK.” One trainee raved: “Funds is absolutely fantastic. Compared to other seats there isn't so much grunt work for trainees. By the end it was just a partner and I on a deal. I was co-ordinating all the secondary transactions, drafting corporate authorities, the private placement memorandum [which outlines the objectives, risks and terms of an investment] and LP6 forms [which specify changes in a limited partnership].”
A not-so diamond geezer
With over 60 associates and 12 partners, banking is the leviathan department of Latham's London office. Its lawyers advise clients on bank, leveraged and acquisition financings, as well as refinancings and alternative sources of finance. “The first deal I did was enormous and it was terrifying,” beamed one trainee. Transactions regularly run into the billions, such as Nordic Capital's (Latham's client) €7 billion financing of credit manager Lindorff's combination with Intrum Justitia. The department counts the biggest names in international finance among its clients, regularly advising the likes of Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, Deutsche Bank and Morgan Stanley.
Trainees frequently work with a range of people in the team rather than just their supervisor and take on a project management role. This involves overseeing the conditions precedent (CP) checklist, liaising with local counsel and handling the KYC process (that's due diligence speak for 'know your customer, a series of checks that ensure deals don't accidentally fund criminals). “If the junior associates are busy you get to do the more complicated tasks” like the drafting of ancillary documents, debentures or legal opinions. “They need you to have a first go as they're too busy to do it from scratch.”
Latham'slitigation department handles high-value disputes, which typically involve multinational companies and significant cross-border dynamics. Clients also include global private equity houses and government entities like central banks. Trainees here encountered a mix of contract squabbles, financial disputes and fraud cases: Latham recently advised an international entrepreneur who'd allegedly had their money embezzled by a family friend and poured into the acquisition of vintage cars, diamonds and fancy pads around the world. Another big case for the group involved successfully defending Royal Dutch Shell and its Nigerian subsidiary against an environmental pollution class action brought on behalf of thousands of Nigerian residents. One trainee told us: “It would be wrong to characterise it as a seat with lots of responsibility all the time. You could have a go at drafting a few paragraphs of a witness statement – you won't get to do the whole thing – or have a crack at letters to the other side. There's also the classic trainee work of proofreading, bundling and pagination. There's a hell of a lot of research too.” One highlight for several sources was being able to sit in on client meetings.
Latham also offers overseas seats and client secondments. The latter are available for those who show a keen interest in a particular practice, with stints at private equity houses especially common. There isn't an official list of available overseas destinations but recent options have included Madrid, Hong Kong, Singapore, Paris, Washington DC and Los Angeles. A couple of sources who'd been lucky enough to jet off to warmer climes told us: “They're very keen on putting trainees where there's a business need. You're not going abroad to have a jolly for six months!” Despite the hard grind, sources described the experience as “the highlight of the training contract.” Another elaborated: “Everyone should apply for one. I've been involved in some really interesting cases and when I go back to London I'll know how this office and its lawyers work, so it's really helpful from a career perspective.” Four or five trainees go abroad each rotation.
Work, work, work, work, work...
Many of the trainees we spoke to were rather coy about the hours they worked, though we did manage to coax some estimations out of them in the end. “In litigation the equivalent of a nine to five is more like 9.30am to 7.30 or 8pm, which for us would be very reasonable. Banking, however, can be extreme. If it's not that busy you can leave at 6pm but if a deal's hotting up you could be here until midnight on consecutive days.” Some sources had endured 11pm exits for almost two months in a row in transactional seats and we also heard of several 4am finishes. “It's intense and there's no let up. You finish one deal and you're straight onto the next one.”
“You have to have an incredible work ethic.”
Despite this, our interviewees were pretty sanguine about the hard graft they put in, telling us “it's just to be expected.” In light of that, the current cohort reckoned future trainees “need to be people who can still have a smile on their face when they're in the office late at night. We work under a lot of stress and pressure and you need to be able to deliver your best despite those conditions.” Another added: “You have to have an incredible work ethic. We're definitely pushed to work outside of our comfort zone, but you're supported to excel and you feel as though you can do it. It's definitely a US work ethic, but we have a laugh too. I work really hard but I enjoy the people I work with.”
A couple of other US-inspired elements also shape the working environment: “It's very clearly a Californian firm. From day one I noticed simple things like no ties in the office and table tennis in the canteen.” Others felt the firm was less hierarchical in nature than its English counterparts, telling us: “I have no problem sticking my head around a door to ask a senior associate or partner a question or to talk about the football.” The canteen also dishes up “a fantastic turkey” on Thanksgiving. The frequency of team drinks depends on the size of the department, but Latham's London lawyers all come together twice a year for a Christmas and summer party.
Trainees find out if they are staying on at the firm by mid-May. Second-years submit two preferences; these are passed on to the relevant departmental heads, who then look over every applicant's reviews before making a decision. In 2017 Latham retained all 22 of its qualifiers in 2017, one of the best retention rates we've ever seen.
Latham opened a Seoul office with a focus on projects and finance work in 2016, its sixth office in Asia.
How to get a Latham training contract
Vacation scheme deadline (2018): 7 January 2018 (opens October 2017)
Training contract deadline (2020): 1 July 2018 (opens October 2017)
Applications, interviews and assessments
Bagging a training contract at Latham requires a minimum 2:1 degree and at least AAB at A level. All candidates – whether they're applying for a vacation scheme or directly for a training contract – complete an online application form that asks about work and academic history, as well as their motivation for wanting to join the firm. “We're looking for well-structured, concise answers on the application form – answers that show a clear understanding of – and drive for – Latham's training contract,” a member of the graduate recruitment team told us. The firm also prefers applicants with some work experience, whether legal or not. commercial.
In 2015/16 2016/17 the firm received over 800 vac scheme applications and more than 600 direct training contract applications. The firm does not recruit on a rolling basis and reviews all applications once deadlines have passed.
Applicants whose online applications stand out are invited to complete a video interview, consisting of around five questions. Those who are successful at this stage are invited to a half-day assessment centre, where they complete an interview with two lawyers; a presentation which can be prepared in advance; and a piece of written work. The day ends with coffee with the current trainees; this meeting is not assessed and gives candidates a chance to ask questions to those who have recently been in their position.
The interview focuses on an applicant's academic and work history, and why they want to work for Latham. One trainee interviewee told us of the experience: “It wasn’t just a question of whether or not I was intelligent and a good worker; they seemed to be evaluating whether they’d be able to go for a drink with me and enjoy it. At the end of the day they want to work with people they’re happy to hang out with as well as work alongside.” The presentation aims to gauge a candidate's commercial awareness, while the written exercise is designed to test their attention to detail and ability to assimilate information quickly.
Latham strongly encourages trainee hopefuls to apply to its vacation scheme; the majority of its 24 training contracts are awarded to those who have completed the scheme. The firm runs two two-week schemes a year (one in spring and one in summer) and accepts around 20 candidates onto each. Both schemes are open to law and non-law graduates and undergraduates.
Candidates who bag a place on the scheme spend a week in one practice area and a week in another. The firm does its best to accommodate preferences for each of these stints. Attendees sit in an office with their supervisor: “It's just like a miniature version of the training contract itself in this regard,” a trainee reflected. Vac schemers are given a research task tied to each practice area they sample. They're also asked to complete a group debate exercise during their time on the scheme. Throughout, “your supervisor will advise you, and you’re encouraged to be proactive and reach out to people,” explained a member of the graduate recruitment team. “The firm is interested in seeing how you can work alongside others to produce the best output possible.” The vac scheme also gives candidates a chance to attend networking and social events.
Towards the end of the scheme, candidates attend an interview for the training contract. Feedback from the interview – as well as from assigned work and general performance during the vac scheme – are taken into account when training contract decisions are made.
Latham & Watkins
- Partners 75
- Associates 209
- Total trainees: 48
- UK offices London
- Overseas offices Barcelona, Beijing, Boston, Brussels, Century City, Chicago, Dubai, Düsseldorf, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Hong Kong, Houston, London, Los Angeles, Madrid, Milan, Moscow, Munich, New York, Orange County, Paris, Riyadh, San Diego, San Francisco, Seoul, Shanghai, Silicon Valley, Singapore, Tokyo, Washington, D.C.
- Graduate recuiter: Rosie Buckley, [email protected]
- Training partner: Kem Ihenacho
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 24
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1
- Minimum UCAS points or A levels: AAB
- Vacation scheme places pa: 40
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: April 2018
- Training contract deadline, 2020 start: July 2018
- Vacation scheme applications open: October 2017
- Vacation scheme 2018 deadline: 7 January 2018
- Open day deadline: 12 February 2018 (first years), 5 November 2017 (others)
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary:£45,000
- Second-year salary:£48,000
- LPC fees: Yes
- GDL fees: Yes
- Maintenance grant pa:£8,000 per course
- International and regional
- Offices with training contracts: Singapore, Hong Kong
- Overseas seats: Decided on business need, previous seats have included Hong Kong, Dubai, Singapore, LA, Boston, New York, Madrid, Brussels, Paris etc
- Client secondments: We offer different client secondments each seat based on business need.
Described as a ‘Game Changer’ by the Financial Times’ 2015 report of the most innovative European law firms, Latham’s award-winning London office is home to almost 300 lawyers and recognised for its work advising some of the world’s leading corporates, financial institutions and private equity firms on their most significant transactions and disputes.
Main areas of work
Latham’s highly regarded London disputes practice boasts renowned litigators who focus on complex crossborder disputes.
Between 2000 and 2016, Latham also provided approximately 3 million pro bono hours in free legal services to underserved individuals and families and the nonprofit sector valued at approximately US$1.3 billion.
In addition to training in each seat, trainees also benefit from a core three week induction. After induction trainees complete four, six-month seats. Two of these will be in corporate and finance. Trainees also have the opportunity to apply for a secondment in either their third or fourth seat. The firm recruits trainees with a view to retaining them upon qualification and average retention over the last five years has been 93%.
During the course of two weeks, you will sit in two practice areas. You can expect to be involved in client calls, court visits, Q&As and training, as well as group work and social events. You will also have the opportunity to interview for our training contract.
Open days and first-year opportunities
Penultimate year law students, all final year students and graduates:
Deadline: 5 November 2017
First and second year students:
Deadline: 12 February 2018
University law careers fairs 2017
This year we are visiting the following Law Fairs: Birmingham, BPP, Bristol, Cambridge, Durham, Exeter, Kings, Leeds, LSE, Nottingham, Oxford, Queen Mary, Sheffield, UCL, Warwick, York.