“I'm proud of the name,” chorused trainees of this formidable magic circle institution. “There's great work here, and great people.”
The Village People
Across the lane from the Barbican lies the Linklaters nerve centre, nicknamed “The Village” by its inhabitants. This is not because the buildings are thatched or the local economy based on sheep farming, but because “it has absolutely everything you could possibly want. There’s a free doctor, dentist, gym, a canteen that's open 24/7 and sleep pods – they're like tiny bedrooms with en-suites.” This entire ecosystem is just for Links locals, who, instead of feeling trapped, insisted that “it's one of the most useful things. It's genuinely all here for us to make things easier, rather than make sure we never leave. They just appreciate that we work hard and are here to help us out.”
And trainees are expected to work hard – Links’ considerable success wasn’t built on doing a slap-dash job. The firm is London's largest trainee recruiter, one fifth of the elite magic circle, and a premier transactional firm. Links sits in 4th position in the Chambers Global Top 30 of the world’s mightiest firms – expect work to be international and quite complicated. In Chambers UK Links is joined by just two other firms at the top of the M&A market, and it racks up rankings in a staggering number of areas, spanning banking, environment, alternative energy, infrastructure, IP, projects and much more. These opportunities had applicants flocking to the firm: “It's the brand recognition. There's no better place to start your career than Links. Get a solid grounding here and then you can go anywhere.” But magic circle life is an acquired taste and all applicants appreciate the “slog” needed in exchange for the considerable rewards on offer – last year a Links partner posted the highest personal profits in the City. But this is no City shark tank: “I've had a lovely experience – I thought I was going to be eaten alive, but no. They really just want to help you be the best.”
I see deals, people!
With its breadth of top practice areas, trainees are spoilt for choice, which is why Links runs an event for newbies “like a jobs fair, where all the departments put stalls out, give you freebies,” and explain what each area does. After this, you submit four preferences for the first seat allocation, “including a split between big and niche groups.” Then mid-way through the first seat, new starters submit another six choices for their second and third seats, “with the ability to change it later.” The final seat is left open at this point, as “most people tend to go away on secondment. But lately the number of secondments they offer has gone down – it's still really competitive, though, and you have to write up to 200 words explaining why you want to go.” International destinations include Paris, Brussels, Tokyo, Singapore, Hong Kong and Dubai, plus a plethora of in-house corporate stints too.
“They really just want to help you be the best.”
The corporate department is huge, with 42 partners and a legion of associates. Trainees are traditionally assigned to one of four groups that include general corporate (mostly public and private M&A), private equity, energy and mining, and insurance. Throughout each sub-team there’s a sector focus on financial services, healthcare and energy. So it’s no wonder then that clients like BP, Glencore, and Vodafone are regulars on the books. In fact, Links acts for one-third of the FTSE 100, whose combined market capitalisation tots up to over £811 billion. Some big wins that need shouting about include the ‘megabrew merger’: acting for SABMiller on its £71 billion takeover by AB InBev – a thirsty entity that now controls 27% of the world’s beer. Links also had a hand in the £10.25 billion purchase of O2 UK from Telefonica, by CK Hutchison. And lest we forget, they also helped out AXA on the sale of its UK Life & Savings businesses for a sturdy £630 million.
But with deals this size, the trainee work can be a little more like “grunt work.” However, insiders reasoned that “you’d do that anywhere when you’re just starting out. But once you’ve built that trust and proved that you’re not incompetent, then they give you more interesting work to do.” Mainstream corporate trainees explained that “on this takeover bid, I basically didn’t leave one week. It’s fun when you’re working on glamorous deals that you see in the FT or The Economist – but it can be gruelling.” One interviewee reported “drafting letters that outlined the deal's compatibility with the Takeover Code.” Others had seen a fair amount of board minute drafting, “emailing different parties in a large public M&A about stock transfers,” and IPO verifications.
Le Nozze di Figaro Holdco
The banking and finance group is an all-rounder, covering corporate, trade and asset finance, as well as restructuring, insolvency and regulatory matters, for a bunch of giant clients like Barclays, HSBC and The Carlyle Group. Recent deals to shout about include acting for the lead arrangers of £500 million worth of funds for the acquisition of shares in LGC Science Group and LGC Whirlwind by Figaro Holdco. Another key win included helping HSBC act as a global co-ordinator for a $43.8 billion loan to Syngenta.
Trainees are assigned to one of four subgroups: mainstream banking, leveraged finance, restructuring and insolvency and global loans – “but even if you’re sat in one team, it doesn’t mean you can’t get involved in work from other groups, plus there's this centralised allocation system, where they can look at everyone’s capacity and see where trainees are needed.” That said, most of our sources saw some leveraged finance action. They explained that “we have a really broad practice, so we work equally for sponsors, banks and syndicates.” We were told that pretty much every deal that graces the team’s doors is multi-jurisdictional: “I worked on one matter across 14 different jurisdictions. It was so much fun because I had to deal with local counsel and keep track of all the documents we needed.” Otherwise, trainees mentioned “doing the CP checklists, and drafting letters to clients, opinions, and short-form agreements – actually they’re about 25 pages long, so for a trainee that’s quite a lot.”
“You’re not siloed into a type of work.”
In Links' litigation department, clients like BP, PwC, RBS and BAESystems get a group that “prides itself in taking on the most complex cases.” The team recently represented Bayerische Landesbank in its £300 million bribery case surrounding the sale of its stake in Formula One to CVC Capital, against Bernie Ecclestone, his former lawyer and his family's trust. Rookies dabble in everything from regulatory investigations to commercial disputes to banking spats and fraud cases. They appreciated that “you’re not siloed into a type of work. There are loads of us on internal investigations and EU competition work, but there’s a lot of variety.” Insiders reported “doing the bundling on the Lehman Brothers litigation. It sounds boring, but it was a good task to get to grips with everything.” This was a common occurrence regardless of who we spoke to – “I got stuck on doc review for six months.” However, more engaging activities saw trainees go on dawn raids in bribery cases and “assist on this fraud case for some of our Middle Eastern clients. There was just so much writing! Fifty-page witness statements and things like that.”
There's also a whole host of smaller teams that trainees can sit in. For example, a few of our sources had tried out employment and incentives. Insiders explained that “incentives is essentially corporate support work, mixed with things like remuneration. I wrote up due diligence reports, researched company transfers and looked into whether shares needed to be divested. I also wrote a section of an IPO prospectus explaining partner share schemes.” The team recently helped out with the £1.4 billion sale of the Home Retail Group to Sainsbury's, dealing with six employee share plans across four jurisdictions. On the employment side corporate support work makes up 40% of the work; 60% is litigation. Clients include banks like HSBC, Deutsche Bank, Commerzbank and Bank of America, as well as FTSE 100 companies. We heard that trainees were recently involved in “a massive tribunal case – the hours were so long and there was loads of bundling and drafting of witness statements.” Trainees also get to draft things like junior contracts, employment handbooks, TUPE documents and guidance on hiring overseas employees.
Trainees have mid-seat and end-of-seat reviews. “At both reviews your supervisor gathers feedback from all the people you've worked with and discusses it with you," a source reported. "You do the same at the end-of-seat review, but you write a self-appraisal as well.” Newbies are graded for their performance on a scale of one to five with sources explaining that “you need to be scoring a four or above if you want to qualify into that team.” Speaking of qualification, after each end-of-seat review, trainees toddle off to see the department's group trainee solicitor partner (GTSP) – “they're the person in charge of trainees in that department, and you have a chat with them about whether you’re thinking of qualifying there – even after seat one.” This is repeated each rotation until the penultimate seat when hopefuls first discuss open spots with the GTSP, then submit a preference form to HR with their NQ choices. It's all capped off in a meeting with HR, which tackles “matching your choices with your offers.” In 2017 the firm retained 91 of 107 qualifiers.
May the fizz be with you
As we hope we’ve made clear, this is magic circle – it’s not going to be a walk in a wheat-field, folks. But our sources felt that “some groups are tougher than others. Corporate is tough – it’s things like not being able to do the plans you’ve made, or when you think you’re finished at 10pm and ask if there’s anything you can help with, thinking that they’ll be like, no go home, but instead they tell you to stick around.” Financial trainees recounted how “when there’s nothing on you’re told to go home. I was told off the other day for being here when I didn’t need to be!” The demands at this end of the market are “no secret. We’re asked by HR how we feel about working long hours in the interview. Plus we’re well remunerated for it. It’s a lifestyle we’ve chosen, but people should go into this with their eyes open. If you’re doing this to make your mum proud they’re going to see through it.”
“But my team is so approachable and caring,” our sources were quick to retort, when we asked about the firm culture. “Obviously you’re not going to be best friends with the senior partner,” began one, “but it’s certainly not cut-throat here. When I was up really late emailing work over to my supervisor, the partner responded to me at 1am just to say thank you and tell me I was doing a good job – it does make you feel like you’re doing something that matters.” Our sources told of a strong bond in their training class: “Because your intake does the LPC together, there’s always a friendly face down the hall who’ll go for dinner with you.” A few of our interviewees had been whisked away on departmental annual retreats to places like Monaco, Rome, Dubrovnik, the Dolomites, Majorca and Budapest – this kind of thing is what happens when you join Linklaters. On the home front there are departmental drinks and cake trolleys on Fridays, which different groups take on for a themed pimping: “Ours was Star Wars themed, and I cut out pictures of the heads of people in our department and put them on pictures of characters from the films and stuck them everywhere.” The big event marked on everyone’s calendar is the summer ball. This year’s bash was held at the Royal College of Physicians. “It started off with a jazz band on the lawn and then a small contingent of us went off for Jägerbombs. It was at some point during karaoke that I know I should have left. I was out till 4.30am and then back in the office at 9.30am.” Ouch… pass us the paracetamol and a strong coffee stat.
How to get a Linklaters training contract
Vacation scheme deadline: 23 October 2017 (winter: penultimate-year and final-year undergraduates, graduates and postgraduates, open 11 September 2017); 4 January 2018 (spring & summer: penultimate-year and final-year undergraduates, graduates and postgraduates, opens 2 October 2017)
Training contract deadline: 4 January 2018 (penultimate-year law undergraduates, final-year students, postgraduate students and graduates, open 2 October 2017); 28 June 2018 (penultimate-year law undergraduates, final-year students, postgraduate students and graduates, opens 2 October 2017)
Linklaters recruits from a wide range of universities and accepts applications from both law and non-law students. The proportion of law to non-law graduates is 60:40. Alongside visits to many UK universities, recruiters are also sent to South Africa, India and Australia to interview overseas candidates. The application form for a vac scheme is the same as the one for the training contract. Be sure to check your form for any silly errors and avoid regurgitating the firm’s own marketing material. Extracurricular activities, academics, work experience and languages are all particularly valued in applicants.
Alongside your application form, you’ll be invited to complete an online Watson Glaser critical thinking test. You'll be doing yourself a favour by having a stab at a practice test, which can be found online.
Assessments and interviews
Successful applicants – for training contracts and vac scheme places alike – attend one of many assessment days held each year. The day involves a written version of the critical thinking test, a work simulation exercise and two interviews. The work simulation exercise sees candidates draft a written response to an email about a deal.
The first interview takes place with HR and is designed to test “key competencies like teamwork, leadership, motivation, desire for commercial law and the ability to organise,” say recruiters. “Linklaters tries to gauge applicants’ communication skills and their commitment to both commercial law and Linklaters in particular.”
Then there's an interview with a partner and managing associate, which is focused on business and the law. It involves a discussion of the written exercise from the work simulation, plus questions testing commercial awareness.
During the assessment day, candidates get a chance to tour the building and have lunch with the current trainees – a good chance to ask questions and find out more about working at the firm. From here the firm makes its offers.
The vacation scheme
Around 70% of Linklaters' vac schemers go on to train with the firm. The firm runs winter, spring and summer schemes – these are open to law and non-law students in their penultimate-year and final-year of study, as well as graduates and postgrads.
Vac schemers visit one or two practice groups during their visit and can state preferences for these beforehand. Each attendee works alongside an associate who acts as a formal mentor and provides both guidance and feedback. A buddy from the trainee group stands in as a more informal point of contact.
Over the course of the vac scheme there are presentations on core practice areas, a talk from the managing partner about the firm’s strategy, and an advice session on how to conduct yourself at an interview. Vac schemers also participate in a hypothetical client pitch and a mediation exercise.
Those who complete the scheme are automatically allotted a final interview for a training contract. This takes place with a partner and lasts an hour.
Interview with global trainee solicitor partner Richard Hodgson
Chambers Student: What have been the highlights at Linklaters over the past 12 months, and what does the future hold?
Richard Hodgson: Well, we worked on some hugely significant transactions and cases for our clients, such as the £71 billion recommended acquisition of SABMiller by Anheuser-Busch InBev and the establishment of the world’s largest technology investment fund ($100 billion) for SoftBank.
We also undertook a review of our global strategy. Led by our senior partner Charlie Jacobs and firm-wide managing partner Gideon Moore, we have taken on board feedback from across the firm in town hall meetings and through use of our internal crowd-sourcing system, as well as holding a massive feedback exercise with our clients to develop a new strategic outlook. We launched the new strategy on 1 May 2017 and have now set about implementing our vision which is to be best in class – winning in our chosen markets. The strategy is based on three core concepts: empowering our teams; investing in our clients; and changing our mindset – which means being innovative, ever more outward-facing and entrepreneurial. Our vision is centred on being a truly diverse and inclusive meritocracy.
Part of our focus on innovation has been realised by our huge investment in artificial intelligence (AI). We now have our own bespoke AI solution that's being developed with our coders. We think that new technology has the ability to fast-track growth in our business, and to provide more effective and efficient client solutions. Innovation is key and something we want to stay ahead of for the future. In fact, it's something that we want the grads who are considering joining us to think about. When they're on the LPC, our future joiners now have the option to do an MSc in business and law, just by doing an extra dissertation. The top three dissertations are shared with me and the head of strategy. We then pick the best and see if we can implement some of the student's ideas – plus they get a prize. This year there's been a lot of writing around technology and how it can be harnessed for our business and clients, which has been really exciting to see.
CS: Brexit is the big unknown at the moment. How will this affect the firm?
RH: We feel well placed to deal with Brexit. Following the outcome of the 2015 general election in the UK, we set up Brexit working groups to look at the challenges it could bring from a client, firm and English law perspective. We then published our findings, and we've been engaged by a number of the largest banks and other clients to help with their Brexit planning. We feel really strongly about cultivating these types of roles and relationships, because whenever there are significant challenges or dislocations in the market, truly trusted advisers will be called upon to give guidance and counsel to their clients.
CS: Finally, what do you look for in candidates and what advice do you have for our readers?
RH: The firm is known for working on complex projects over multiple jurisdictions. In doing so, we rely on our colleagues across different teams and offices. Therefore, we look for commercial thinking, great technical and communication skills, and the ability to work well across team Linklaters. In return, we give you a great platform for your career.As a firm which prides itself on outperforming, we are a true meritocracy and so want to recruit the brightest and best, from the most diverse pool of talent possible, regardless of background, gender, ethnicity or sexual orientation.
In terms of advice, obviously it’s important to proofread your application and things like that. But also try to think about why you want to work at our firm. If you know why you want the role, you will answer the questions most genuinely and that always shows through. It's also important to remember that the person doing the interview will want to get the best out of the candidate. They’re not trying to trip you up, they want you to do well, so try and relax.
One Silk Street,
- Partners 450
- Associates 2,300
- Total trainees 230+* *(London)
- Contacts Graduate Recruitment
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 110
- Applications pa: 3,500
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications: Please see firm website for dates and deadlines
- 2018 Vacation scheme applications: Please see firm website for dates and deadlines
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £43,000
- Second-year salary: £49,000
- Post-qualification salary: £78,500 + discretionary performance-related bonus
- Holiday entitlement: 27 days
- LPC fees: Yes
- GDL fees: Yes
- Maintenance grant: Yes
- International and regional
- Offices: Abu Dhabi, Amsterdam, Antwerp, Bangkok, Beijing, Berlin, Brussels, Dubai, Düsseldorf, Frankfurt, Hong Kong, Lisbon, London, Luxembourg, Madrid, Milan, Moscow, Munich, New York, Paris, Rome, São Paulo, Seoul, Shanghai, Singapore, Stockholm, Tokyo, Warsaw, Washington DC
- Overseas seats: Yes
- Client secondments: Yes
Main areas of work
Open days and first-year opportunities