Training at this magic circler will make your career: “It gives you the chance to be at the top of your game.”
"It's the prestige" – that's what mainly lured our interviewees into the Linklaters lair. But all magic circle firms have that in common, so what else? Well, Links is the biggest trainee recruiter in the City, and many sources hailed its "impressive reputation for excellent training.” Most felt that joining the firm was a no brainer: “If you want to get to the top of the legal profession, Links is an obvious candidate.” This natural habitat for high achievers –“It gives you the chance to be at the top of your game” – makes Links lawyers a prized commodity: over the past year US hotshot Kirkland & Ellis has poached six Linklaters partners; we also heard whispers that two of the firm's partners are being loaned out to Whitehall to help advise on Brexit trade negotiations. Meanwhile, the highest partner salary declared in the City this year came from Links HQ – a cool £3.2 million.
While we dream of hitting these dizzying heights, here are some more vertigo-inducing figures: by the end of the 2015/16 financial year, Links broke its own revenue record of £1.29 billion (2007/08) and posted an impressive £1.31 billion. Managing partner Gideon Moore pointed to a raft of mega M&A matters behind this result, like this biggie: Links advised client SABMiller when it was acquired by fellow brewer AB InBev for an eye-watering £71 billion – the largest ever offer for a UK company. Links' corporate/M&A team is awarded the highest honours in Chambers UK, so news of a stellar crop of deals doesn't come as a shock. Top-tier rankings also abound in countless other practices too, including banking and finance, capital markets, restructuring and insolvency and banking litigation. Check out the firm's listing in Chambers UK so see exactly how it differs from its magic circle buddies – at the top end it's quite nuanced.
"I was so impressed by the stamina of the team.”
Linklaters is rated as the world's 4th most impressive global firm, according to Chambers Global. London forms just one part of Linklaters' 29-piece jigsaw; its other offices can be found gracing cities across Europe, Asia, the US, South America and the Middle East. Asia's been a pet project for the firm in recent years, and in 2013 it opened a Seoul branch to complement its bases in Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong. Since 2014 rumours of a Chinese link-up have trailed the firm, but Linklaters recently announced that it was calling off the search for a merger partner after joint venture talks with two Shanghai firms fell through. Instead, Links will enter a 'best friend' agreement with a newly launched Shanghai firm, which consists of three departing Linklaters lawyers and several of their colleagues. In 2015, Links also began offering training contracts to native Mandarin speakers who want to work in China upon qualification; the programme requires them to spend two seats in London and two in China.
If this wasn't all dizzying enough, there's the bewilderingly large array of seat options. In fact, Linklaters has to run "a law fair of sorts" just to expose trainees to all the options available. Trainees get to submit four options for their first seat, then midway through that seat they submit six preferences for the second and third seat. The fourth seat is left unplanned to allow more flexibility, with trainees often going on secondment or abroad. There are around 15 corporate in-house gigs and over 40 overseas seats on offer, with Dubai, Hong Kong, Singapore and Tokyo proving particularly popular. In 2016, 97 out of 110 qualifiers were retained by the firm.
Dial M for Mergers
Most trainees do a stint in Linklaters' blockbusting corporate team, which is home to a few hundred lawyers and has a strong sector focus on financial services, healthcare and energy. The group is especially big in public and private M&A, and handles a not inconsiderable number of private equity transactions and IPOs too. Big names like BP and Lloyds adorn the client list, as well as major mining companies like Anglo American, Glencore and Rio Tinto. Deals frequently clock in among the billions: lately the team advised Visa Europe on its $23.4 billion takeover by Visa; CK Hutchison Holdings (Three UK's parent entity) on Telefónica's £10.25 billion acquisition of O2 UK; and Japanese bank SMBC's $2.2 billion purchase of General Electric's European private equity financing business.
Corporate trainees are assigned to one of five main subgroups, which broadly cover: 'mainstream corporate' (aka private M&A); private equity; energy and mining; public M&A; or environment. One private M&A-based trainee told of assisting on both mega and small (by Links' standards) deals: “Larger deals are very process-driven; I was heavily involved in the due diligence process, handled questions from counsel and liaised with the banks. You're more likely to end up running larger components on the smaller matters. I ended up drafting parts of the SPA and although I didn't do any negotiating, I was present at the meetings and provided the clients with lots of updates. It's a pretty good seat for client contact.” Other sources had thrown themselves into project management roles where they “organised weekly calls with clients to ensure the timetable was running smoothly.”
“Most people think they have excellent organisational skills until they have to keep track of an SFG deal.”
The banking and finance group services financial institutions like UBS, Barclays and HSBC as well as private equity giants like Apollo. The scope of the group is such that it covers corporate, trade and asset finance, as well as restructuring, insolvency and regulatory matters. Deal figures here have plenty of zeros on the end, like these two for example: Links recently acted for Bank of America Merrill Lynch, BNP Paribas and Standard Chartered as co-ordinators of a five-year £1.8 billion loan to Jaguar Land Rover. It also advised several banks, including RBS and Lloyds, on a £470 million loan to broker Tullett Prebon, which it will use to acquire ICAP's global broking business.
Trainees are assigned to one of four subgroups: mainstream banking, leveraged finance, restructuring and insolvency and global loans – though our sources were “still encouraged to work across teams.” The trainee role across these groups tends to be fairly similar. “I thought it was very administrative,” one source recounted: “I spent a lot of time helping an associate to pull together a conditions precedent (CP) checklist, which involved producing a table to track the status of each document.” Others took a more sanguine approach, and told us that “it's a good role as it develops your organisational skills.” Several sources had wound up “managing the entire CP process; you liaise with foreign counsel and attend calls to discuss the status of the deal. You are made to feel part of the bigger picture.” Drafting opportunities came in the form of securities and facilities agreements, as well as instructions to counsel.
The capital markets practice – one of the best in the City for debt, equity, structured finance and securitisation – shares a fair few clients with the banking and finance group, including Credit Suisse and Citi. Continuing its track record for landmark deals, Links recently worked on the largest ever asset sale by a European government: they advised investment firm Cerberus as it snapped up £13 billion worth of mortgages and personal loans from the now defunct Northern Rock. Trainees are assigned to one of three subgroups: derivatives and structured products (DSP), structured finance group (SFG) or equity debt markets (EDM). Future SFG trainees would be wise to get a good caffeine hit in the morning because “the pace people work at is unreal. I was so impressed by the stamina of the team.” In between espresso shots, trainees helped to “review and amend deal documents and keep abreast of their progress.” One source quipped: “Most people think they have excellent organisational skills until they have to keep track of an SFG deal.” Trainees could also put their drafting skills to good use on sections of facility agreements, and enjoy plenty of client contact: “I really appreciated the exposure,” one interviewee told. “It taught me a lot about the importance of tone when communicating by email. Your choice of words can make all the difference.”
Links' litigation department represents 31 of the FTSE 100, including BAE Systems and Vodafone. It's a growing practice for the firm, with lawyer head count in the department increasing by over 50% since 2013. A recent headline-grabbing case saw the firm act for German bank BayernLB as it made bribery allegations against Bernie Ecclestone over the sale of its stake in Formula One to CVC. Another came in the wake of allegations that the Peruvian National Police tortured and assaulted protesters at a Xstrata-operated mine in 2012: Links is acting for Glencore (who merged with Xstrata in 2013) in a case that will establish liability for damages. Trainees are “encouraged to be generalists,” so rookies can dabble in everything from regulatory investigations to commercial disputes to banking spats and fraud cases. One source recalled: “I mainly worked on doc review to begin with, but later on I was involved in some really interesting and technical legal research. That then progressed to drafting advice to clients.” Bundling, attending court and creating timelines “to understand the details of a case” can also be expected here, along with “drafting letters and witness statements – they do try to give you drafting experience.”
“Working here is a lifestyle.”
Linklaters' London digs sit across the road from the Barbican and is “like a little town in one building” with an on-site gym, a doctor, a dentist, a beautician, a gift shop, a 24-hour canteen and, of course, sleeping pods. “The firm is very good at catering for everything, so the only thing you have to worry about doing is the job,” one source informed us, while another added wryly: “It's to encourage you to stay at the office for as long as you can.” Links trainees certainly do spend a lot of time at the Silk Street HQ. Advisory seats like pensions and tax tend to see trainees leave the office by 8pm, and – provided a trial isn't imminent – we heard litigation is often “stable, so you can usually expect to leave at 8pm too.” In transactional seats, however, “you could be leaving at any time.” One source told us: “I was beasted in corporate. At one point I was working 16-hour days. Those brutal hours can go on for a couple of months and then drop off completely to 6pm or 7pm finishes.” The reality is that “working here is a lifestyle,” and, in the words of this wise trainee: “You give a lot to the job. At some point you will have to make sacrifices for work. If you want a more predictable and social life then this is not the firm to train at.”
To Catch a Zzzzzzz
No one we spoke to had been under any illusions as to what working at Links would be like: “It came as no surprise that I'd have to work hard. It's a challenge but if you're up for it you'll get the best out of your time here.” Our sources added that Links lawyers can take the heat as “everyone is driven and ambitious, and we hold ourselves to extremely high standards.” Even if “it's 10pm at night, people still want to produce the best piece of work they can.” But how do they find the stamina to do that when their eyelids are drooping? “The people here are just full of energy and enthusiasm, and that's quite motivating,” several interviewees felt. So ask yourself this before signing the dotted line at Links, or, for that matter, any other large commercial firm in London: do you think you would feel energised or zapped by that pile of work on your desk at 10pm?
In most departments “there is a pecking order but you genuinely can walk into a partner's office and ask them something. It's not as formal as I expected,” though a couple of sources did consider “banking a little stuffy.” Most found “the people approachable” and the large trainee cohort (218 in 2016) helps to keep the atmosphere fresh and lively: “It doesn't feel staid.” If there's one occasion where the hierarchy does break down, it's during the departmental annual retreats; we heard of teams gallivanting off for exotic weekends away in Monaco, Rome, Dubrovnik, the Dolomites and er, Luton (“apparently the hotel was nice”). The trainee social committee also puts on a Christmas and a summer party, and this year's July bash was held at the industrial-chic Devonshire Terrace.
Linklaters recently overhauled its associate pay packet. Base salaries now include a standard bonus payment so NQ salaries have jumped from £68,500 to a variable £77,500. NQs have also just scored an additional two days' holiday plus an extra day of birthday leave. Get in!
How to get a Linklaters training contract
Vacation scheme deadline: 7 November 2016 (winter & spring: graduates, postgraduates and final-year undergraduates); 6 January 2017 (summer: penultimate-year undergraduates)
Training contract deadline: 6 January 2017 (graduates, postgraduates and final-year undergraduates); 30 June 2017 (penultimate-year law graduates, final-year students, postgraduates and graduates)
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.
If you are successful with 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 the practice test, which can be found on Linklaters' grad recruitment website.
Assessments and interviews
Those who pass the online test – training contract and vac scheme applicants alike – attend one of several 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 reply to a series of emails using multiple choice answers, before drafting a written response to one.
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 two summer schemes – these are open to law and non-law students in their penultimate year of study and last four weeks each, with around 60 spots available in total. There is also a winter scheme, aimed at final-year students, graduates and postgraduates.
Vac schemers visit 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, a video conference with global partners and an advice session on how to conduct yourself at an interview. Vac schemers also participate in a hypothetical client pitch and a negotiation 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.
Linklaters in America
One Silk Street,
- Partners 450
- Associates 2,200
- Trainees 230+*
- Contact Graduate recruitment
- Method of application Online application form
- Selection procedure Critical thinking test, work simulation exercise and two interviews
- Training contracts pa 110
- Applications pa 4,500
- Required degree grade 2:1
- Training salary £43,000
- Holiday entitlement 27 days
- % of trainees with a non-law degree pa 40%
- Post-qualification salary £77,500 + discretionary performance-related bonus
- 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
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