World-beating Californians Latham continue to do it big from Silicon Valley to Silicon Roundabout.
Was it 2Pac, or possibly Sir Ranulph Fiennes, who once said: 'It's lonely at the top'? Wise words indeed – especially if you're climbing Everest in a blizzard. But despite being the largest law firm in the world by revenue – $2.65 billion in 2015 – Latham & Watkins does not appear to be too concerned about having a shoulder to cry on. This California megafirm retained its top-dog status in the American Lawyer 100, with a revenue increase of 1.5% (as opposed to 2014's whopping 14% growth) – we guess little Johnny won't be getting that fire truck this Christmas.
Like the aforementioned gangster rapper, Latham is no loner and is keen to spread a bit of that California love – well, sort of. Sources made no secret of the firm's intentions for its increasingly significant City office. “Latham has come to London – the magic circle's backyard – in order to kick some ass.” And it's doing pretty well so far in certain areas, picking up shiny top-class Chambers UK rankings in banking and finance and capital markets. It scores pretty well for areas like corporate, litigation, private equity and energy too. As these rankings demonstrate Latham London is (like the magic circle firms) primarily a transactional beast, but the comparisons with the magic circle should end there because the Latham trainee experience is quite different.
“Latham has come to London – the magic circle's backyard – in order to kick some ass.”
Despite its California roots, this firm didn't get where it is today by sippin' on gin ’n' juice. With its mind on its money and money on its mind, Latham isn't a place for the laid-back lawyer. “People here are very hard-working and take work seriously,” one source told us. Aspiring trainees are advised to nab a spot on the vac scheme and show they can perform "at the top of their game” during the two weeks of shadowing and assessments. “Of my intake I think only three didn't do the vac scheme," one trainee reported.
A few weeks before new recruits join, they are contacted and asked their preferences for their first seat. Before every seat change trainees “submit a form with at least three preference” and have a lengthy conversation with HR about them. Trainees are required to do one corporate seat, one in banking and, at least officially, a contentious seat too; in practice many trainees opt for a short litigation course instead.
Cookies and clouds
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 public and private M&A and private equity advice to global companies and private equity houses, many of which are US-headquartered. With 40 associates and 16 partners, the M&A team is not short of high-level operators and trainee tasks can lean towards the lowly. “We do a lot of assisting with drafting – due diligence, compiling framework agreements and dealing with the ancillary documents,” one source told us. Trainees also handle the verification process, “making sure all the prospectuses are properly put together and listed.” London's team is the jewel in the crown of a European M&A practice that in 2015 handled over 105 deals with a total value of $230 billion and brought in two huge new clients: Aon and EY. This deluge of deals included representing pharmaceutical giant Allergan in connection with the sale of its generic medicine business to Israel's Teva Pharmaceutical for a pill-sweetening $40.5 billion.
The capital markets team also hauls in hefty deals. Its remit includes advising on both the sponsor and purchaser side of equity and debt deals, though on IPOs “the firm tends to act for the issuers and only occasionally for the underwriters.” Clients include big international banks like HSBC and Barclays and issuers like Swiss telecoms provider Sunrise Communication and Eastern European budget airline Wizz Air. Trainees admitted they “didn't know what to expect” before the seat; offerings are high-octane affairs so “you always see the capital markets team standing by the printer having not washed or slept in days.” Sources were pleasantly surprised though (and not just by the lack of BO). The main thing trainees do in the seat is preparing prospectuses, though sources also spoke of more exotic assignments like being flown abroad at the last minute to assist partners during meetings. At the time of our calls there was talk of a slowdown in deal work in the run-up to the EU referendum, but 2015 had been a bumper year for the department with work including a $3.1 billion rights offering by Spanish telecoms giant Telefónica.
“A pretty sweet package: nice accommodation and a small but significant salary increase.”
TTG is a department suffering from less uncertainty –“it's super-busy with loads of work coming in,” a source told us in spring 2016. Its work is split down the middle, with half dedicated to corporate support –“reviewing M&A contracts related to data protection, cyber-security, cloud computing, cookie policies and privacy” – and half dedicated to helping tech start-ups and “Silicon Valley clients” with stuff like drafting privacy policies. We were told that because the department is so busy trainees get lots of responsibility, with tasks ranging from “drafting due diligence reports” to “researching adware policies.” From Silicon Valley to Silicon Roundabout – Latham London's proximity to London's Old Street start-up mecca means the TTG team runs a pro bono surgery which local tech companies can come to for free legal advice.
With over 60 associates and 12 partners, banking is the leviathan department of Latham's London office, sucking in at least a dozen trainees each rotation. It covers an entire floor of the building and is its own little hub. Its lawyers advise clients on bank financings, refinancings and finding alternative sources of finance. Put simply: “It's mostly about companies borrowing money from the bank to buy other companies.” Trainees frequently work with a range of people in the team rather than just their supervisor and take on a project management role “dealing with local counsel, drafting opinions and corporate resolutions and running conditions precedent checklists.” A high turnover of deals means trainees can follow them from start to finish and get front line work. One source told us how “part of the team was on a business trip to Chicago, and when they were mid-flight the client came back with an offer. So I had to read everything, make decisions and relay information to the team.” The department counts the biggest names in international finance among its clients, regularly advising banks like BNP Paribas, Merrill Lynch and Deutsche Bank. And recently the team represented J.P. Morgan during ChemChina's acquisition of a €6.8 billion stake in tyre manufacturers Pirelli.
"I had to read everything, make decisions and relay information."
Screeching round the corner in hot pursuit is Latham's litigation team. The department deals with high-value disputes often between multinational companies and often with a significant cross-border dynamic. The work can include “complex finance-orientated disputes” as well as “English proceedings that are part of a huge international case.” Compared to the transactional seats “litigation is much more like the law you study at university” and “is a lot more academic – you have to be very comfortable researching case law.” For trainees “there's evidence gathering and analysis” to contend with, but "while you are brought along to meetings, you don't have the same amount of client-facing responsibility as in the transactional seats because clients are more cost-sensitive.” These clients include large international companies, global private equity houses and government entities like central banks. In 2015 the London team also added Singapore Airlines, the London Metal Exchange and Christie's to its client roster. There is some slightly more domestic work too: for example, the team recently represented the London Private Hire Cab Association in its dispute with Uber over the fact that Uber drivers don't have a private hire licence.
Latham also offers overseas seats and client secondments. There isn't an official list of available overseas destinations but in September 2016 trainees were jetting off to Hong Kong, Singapore, Madrid and Los Angeles. These options are not set in stone and we heard that trainees had also recently spent time in Paris, New York and Madrid. “Third and fourth-seaters are typically the people who go abroad,” and overseas opportunities are discussed at seat allocation meetings. Once you've jetted off overseas you can expect a “definite step-up in responsibility levels” on top of “a pretty sweet package: nice accommodation and a small but significant salary increase.” Client secondments are also available for those that show a keen interest in a particular practice, with stints at private equity houses especially common.
By now we hope you'll have started to work out if the Latham training contract is your cup of tea. One thing to bear in mind is that Latham's roots lie in a typically Californian blend of egalitarianism and meritocracy. “The hallmark of the Latham training contract is that if you're good enough to do something, you will do it,” said one trainee. On the subject of egalitarianism another added: “I've never been made to feel like I'm bottom of the pile. As a trainee you're never just asked to do a research task; you're asked to take a view and explain why you think something is the case.” Nevertheless, this is no happy-clappy ashram in Palm Springs. Latham is typical of American firm in that trainees are expected to work long hours and not complain. Banking is probably the most intense seat – “we work late pretty regularly” – but the firm also has two staffers who check trainees' hours and make sure that work is being distributed fairly. Litigation is “the seat most likely to take apart your evenings because of unexpected work coming up,” and in corporate seats trainees can expect “a few 1am finishes.”
Long hours are slightly made up for by a work hard, play hard culture, especially in the transactional seats. There's the “Latham spring challenge,” when every employee is given a pedometer and the person who walks the furthest gets a shiny prize, and more muscular legs. And if that still sounds a bit too 'work hard', most of the bigger departments have bi-monthly drinks in Shoreditch, while corporate has weekly drinks in the office. As for that office, it's housed in a shiny glass City tower at 99 Bishopsgate. Since its lawyers spend a lot of time within its four walls, those in charge try to ensure the digs are as comfortable as possible. There are kitchens on every floor and fresh fruit baskets are put out daily. There's also a subsidised restaurant with a “deli counter, daily specials and afternoon tea with cakes.” And as if that wasn't enough to sate sweet-toothed trainees, the firm also lays on monthly birthday cake.
Latham has retained over 90% of its qualifiers over the past five years and this trend continued in 2016 with 17 of 20 kept on. The process begins with a chat with HR after which you receive a list of which departments are hiring and how many NQs they are taking on. Trainees then list their preferences – which can include roles overseas – and HR contacts the departments and tell them who has expressed an interest. The heads of department then look at everyone's reviews – including mid-seat appraisals – and trainees find out if they are staying by mid-May.
Pro bono is a big deal at Latham. There's a pro bono committee and trainees are encouraged to take on at least one case during their training contract.
How to get a Latham & Watkins training contract
Vacation scheme deadline: 8 January 2017
Training contract deadline: 2 July 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 commercial.
In 2015/16 the firm received over 800 vac scheme applications and more than 600 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. The trainees we spoke with recalled the interviewers as “friendly and approachable,” with one telling us: “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 over Easter and one in the 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 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.”
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.
Private equity explained
The world's biggest law firm
Revenue-wise, DLA Piper had always battled it out with Baker & McKenzie for the title of world's biggest law firm by revenue, but in 2015 a new number one pipped them both to the top spot: Latham & Watkins. In 2016, for the second year running, Latham maintained its primacy with a whopping $2.65 billion annual take with DLA coming a close second with $2.54 billion.
Latham & Watkins
- Partners 66
- Associates 203
- Trainees 45
- Contact Graduate recruitment team, firstname.lastname@example.org
- Method of application Online application form at www.lw.com/londongraduates
- Selection procedure Video interview, followed by an assessment day
- Closing date for 2019 2 July 2017
- Training contracts pa 24
- Required degree grade 2:1
- Training salary
- First year: £45,000
- Second year: £48,000
- Post-qualification salary £100,819
- Overseas/regional offices Barcelona, Beijing, Boston, Brussels, Century City, Chicago, Dubai, Düsseldorf, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Hong Kong, Houston, Los Angeles, Madrid, Milan, Moscow, Munich, New Jersey, New York, Orange County, Paris, Riyadh, Rome San Diego, San Francisco, Shanghai, Silicon Valley, Singapore, Tokyo, Washington, DC
Main areas of work
Sponsorship and benefits
Easter scheme: 27 March – 7 April
Summer scheme: 3 July – 14 July.
The application deadline is the 8 January 2017.