Things are on the up at Chicago-headquartered Mayer Brown, where the London base funnels work from East and West.
Mayer of London
Frankfurt, Paris, Chicago, Brussels, New York, Hong Kong... these are just a few of the overseas offices our sources had worked with. “It certainly feels like most of the firm's global matters come through London,” one interviewee told us, while another added: “We do a lot of cross-border work on behalf of multinationals, so if you like the idea of that Mayer Brown's the place to be.” All in all, 21 offices secure Mayer Brown's global reach, which stretches across the Americas, Europe, Asia and the Middle East. Dubai became the latest addition to the megafirm's roster when it opened in mid-2016; two corporate partners kick-started the firm's first office in the Middle East, but were later joined by dispute and arbitration partners from London and Paris. This foray into the region comes in the wake of an association with a Chinese firm and the launch of a representative office in Mexico City.
But what about London? This branch was originally part of UK firm Rowe & Maw, which merged with what was then Mayer, Brown & Platt in 2002. Having a Brit foundation to the base has so far prevented any overwhelming US-style atmosphere taking root, but more on that later. As for what you're likely to be working on: the office's corporate, finance and litigation departments pull in the bulk of mandates here. All three are given a nod by Chambers UK, with the litigation group rated as one of the best in London for its work with corporates and financial institutions. The office's transactional wing, however, has been given a boost over the past year, thanks to a string of lateral hires: the banking and finance group attracted partners from Gowling WLG and Dentons; two Reed Smith private equity bods beefed up the corporate department; and an ex-Morgan Lewis partner rocked up to support the energy group. On the subject of energy: the office excels at mining work in particular, winning a top-tier ranking from Chambers UK for its efforts. Other highly rated areas include professional negligence, pensions, restructuring/insolvency, and contentious insurance and construction work.
After spending several years in decline, Mayer Brown's global revenue turned a corner and the firm recorded its third consecutive rise in 2015. The numbers were up by 3% to $1.26 billion, which is not quite as impressive as the previous year's 7% upswing, but still, an increase is an increase right?
“People call and say, 'You're a lawyer! What do I do?!'”
Trainees list at least three ranked seat preferences before each rotation. They then sit down to discuss their options with HR, who give trainees a “very realistic” indication of the chances of bagging oversubscribed seats and, if needed, recommend alternatives before rookies submit their final choices. All of our sources gave this system (introduced in 2015) a big thumbs up, with second-years commenting: “It's much more collaborative and transparent than the previous method for allocating seats.” Every Mayer Brown trainee is required to complete either a client secondment or an overseas seat, with international postings available in New York and Hong Kong from September 2016. For those who'd rather stay at home, stints are available with London-based corporate and finance clients instead. “The skills you learn are invaluable,” interviewees gushed. “At Mayer Brown you're surrounded by lawyers, but when you sit down with a client on secondment and chat about their commercial issues and concerns it gives you a very different perspective.” Increased levels of responsibility also went down well: “It's exciting when people call you directly and say, 'You're a lawyer! What do I do?!'”
Back at the office, the litigation group's remit runs far and wide: it covers everything from contract spats to professional negligence claims to fraud cases to finance disputes. Standout matters of late include conducting an investigation into alleged bribes tied to a North African building contract on behalf of project management outfit Sweett Group; representing Spanish investment holding company Val Telecomunicaciones during a dispute over unpaid transaction fees; and acting for Gibraltar-based Finsbury Trust Company after it was accused of making unauthorised profits off the back of contemporary artwork – this last case involved companies, individuals and trusts in Austria, Dubai, Gibraltar, Jersey, Monaco and the UK. Other key clients include UBS, Merchant Navy Ratings Pension Fund and luxury yacht manufacturer Sunseeker International.
"It's quite easy to shape the kind of work you do."
Trainees can complete seats in commercial dispute resolution (CDR), insurance litigation or the construction team. Across the board our sources had prepared bundles and attended court hearings: “There's a lot of document preparation work which is arduous, but when you're sat in the courtroom and the barrister is instructing everyone to turn to page X and read tab Y, or asking you to pass them a specific document, you realise how important it is to take the time to prepare everything correctly.” Insurance litigators also spoke of drafting numerous claims reports for insurers. “It's a time-consuming process, but it gives you brilliant drafting experience; you have to be thorough and consider what the client needs to know and what their strategy is.”
The banking and finance department consists of nine subgroups, which handle things like real estate finance, capital markets work, asset-backed lending, project finance deals "and everything in between.” As there's no formal divide between the groups, “you get to float around the department. It's quite easy to shape the kind of work you do, as everyone wants a trainee; you just need to show an interest.” The team frequently works on transatlantic deals for financial giants like Wells Fargo, Deutsche Bank and Barclays. Recently it advised the latter's New York branch on a $20 million loan credit agreement with UK-headquartered healthcare company inVentiv. Another deal saw the firm's London, Frankfurt, Düsseldorf, Paris and New York lawyers unite to advise corrugated board producer Progroup as it raised €184 million to purchase an industrial power plant from German utilities outfit EnBW.
One finance-based trainee told us: “I started off doing pretty mind-numbing, menial work like proofing and due diligence, but once they start to trust you the responsibility you get increases.” Another corroborated: “They're quite keen at getting trainees to hone their drafting skills early on, so they'll often give us the first crack at drafting ancillaries or larger securities documents with a precedent to help guide us.” Another key task for trainees is keeping track of the status of documents on the conditions precedent (CP) checklist. Several sources had even managed to “lead a few CP calls with associates and foreign lawyers – it's both terrifying and exciting to be leading a dozen people like that!”
Need for speed reading
MB's corporate team handles a mix of M&A, funds and corporate finance deals. Clients hail from a number of sectors including financial services, energy, telecoms, tech and media, so you'll find clients like Thomson Reuters, Moody's and Universal Coal gracing the books here. “Trainees handle a lot of co-ordination,” one interviewee recalled. “A large proportion of the work involves tackling due diligence and writing DD reports, often for cross-border matters. I would be focusing on the UK subsidiaries of the target companies and instructing colleagues in our overseas offices to look into the international subsidiaries.” Recent deals include advising global asset manager Brookfield on its acquisition of Center Parcs from Blackstone; Entertainment One on its 70% stake in the UK-based production company responsible for giving us Peppa Pig; and Active Private Equity on the sale of a family-owned chain of bicycle shops to another private equity firm, ECI. Sources pointed to an increasing amount of private equity work, reflecting a move to bring the London practice more in line with the firm's US offering.
A strong financial slant permeates Mayer Brown's real estate department – so much so that one trainee is assigned solely to finance matters. Meanwhile, another trainee will tackle general real estate work. Overall, the team works closely with the firm's Asian arm to draw in lucrative work from Chinese, Indonesian and Hong Kong corporate institutions investing multimillions in London property. Both finance and general real estate lawyers recently advised Chinese insurers Ping An on the £330 million financing and acquisition of the Tower Place office complex, which sits beside the Tower of London. Trainees on the finance side told of running completions and conditions precedent checklists, while those in general real estate found their work was split into two camps. The first involved assisting – in a limited capacity – on big sales and purchases, but the second came with more scope for getting stuck in: “We're responsible for property management; if the firm helps to sell a large building on Oxford Street, the trainees then manage the floors and the shops underneath. Once the partner's passed you the client's instructions you become the face of the matter, by drafting and negotiating licences to alter or assign a lease.”
"Everyone's been raving about it!”
Each seat sees trainees undergo a mid and end-of-seat review with their supervisor, who talks them through feedback gathered from across the department. As far as training goes, new joiners start out their training contract with an induction week and go on to complete “a thorough programme of sessions during the first six weeks of each seat.” Trainees can also pop along to soft skills sessions on things like effective speed reading; “I missed it but everyone's been raving about it!” one bemused interviewee told us. A voluntary mentor system was recently put in place, which allows trainees to be guided by a partner. Those who had made use of it were pleased to receive pointers on the NQ application process.
Retention hasn't been great in recent years, particularly in 2014, when only 12 of MB's 23 qualifiers received offers. To address the shortage of jobs it's incurred, the firm has cut down trainee numbers: there were 54 in September 2011 compared with 29 in September 2016. At the time of our calls in June, fourth-seaters were still waiting to hear back on the outcome of their NQ interviews: “We were supposed to find out last week, but the decision keeps getting delayed,” frustrated sources told us, flagging budgets and the uncertainty provoked by Brexit (we interviewed in the week running up to the referendum) as potential culprits behind the hold-ups. Eventually, ten of 2016's 13 qualifiers were retained by the firm.
“There's rarely an awkward silence at the photocopier.”
Pulling ten and 11-hour days seemed to be the norm among our sources, but extended hours were typical in the likes of corporate and banking: “There are usually other trainees working late too, so we all band together to get it done.” Banking in particular was highlighted as a tough one for long slogs: “There were days where I was working very late, sometimes into the early hours of the morning, and sometimes I worked at the weekend, but they did bring in paralegals to help us.” The slew of international work in CDR and the other transactional departments also skews the timetable. “If you're working with people in Hong Kong and Mainland China it's best to get in early to check your emails and get on top of things before they go home, but if you're dealing with the US, you'll be staying later as queries from them will still be coming through.”
Despite the firm hailing from its power centre in the Windy City, trainees assured us that the London office “doesn't feel like a European outpost of a US firm; we were a British firm before we merged, not a US-launched base. The biggest misconception I had about Mayer Brown was that it would feel American, but that's not true.” Some aspects – such as “an emphasis on responsiveness to clients” – are starting to blow over the Atlantic, but sources felt these stemmed from “a less severe Chicago influence – it's not like the horror stories you hear about New York-headquartered firms."
The gusts from Chicago were predominantly felt in banking, where there's “more of an American go-getting attitude: it's a very no-nonsense department, very work hard/play hard, very 'deal deal deal!'” Other departments “are more chilled” but hardly slacking. “People definitely work hard and are focused on what they do but we're quite sociable too,” one trainee mused. Another elaborated: “There's rarely an awkward silence in the kitchen or at the photocopier. People like to chat.” Several departments, including finance and real estate, regularly roll out the drinks trolley come Friday night, while the trainees and junior associates “make an effort” to try and get out together at the end of the week. A contingent still head to an old favourite, The White Horse, but other front runners around the Bishopsgate base include The Water Poet and The Crown & Shuttle.
“Make sure you spell our name right on your application,” one trainee stressed. “It's Mayer not Mayor. You'd be surprised how common a mistake it is and attention to detail is important.” It sure is.
How to get a Mayer Brown training contract
Vacation scheme application deadline: 31 January 2017 (spring and summer)
Training contract application deadline: 31 July 2017
Mayer Brown runs three vacation schemes each year: two in the summer and one in the spring. There are 10 places available on each two-week programme, and the firm generally receives 700 applications in total.
A covering letter is an essential part of the online application. The box for this is left entirely blank so candidates can express themselves, though be careful not to waffle. Mayer Brown wants to see applicants structure this letter well, and demonstrate excellent spelling and grammar. “A well-written application is important,” explains recruitment partner Dominic Griffiths, “as writing and using the English language constitutes 70 to 80% of what we do.” Applicants also have to pass online verbal reasoning and situational judgement tests, and attend an assessment day to secure a vac scheme place.
Vac schemers split their time between two departments. “They try to accommodate your preferences as to where you'd like to go,” a current trainee said. Griffiths tells us the overall aim of the placement is to give candidates “a feel for being a trainee at Mayer Brown. We ensure they get good quality work that's typical of what they'd be doing as a trainee.” Our trainee sources backed this up, with one telling us: “I got to go to the High Court during my visit. It was great to feel like I was helping out the team on something valuable.”
Alongside vac schemers' work are various social and networking opportunities. “It's important people get to know a firm in its entirety – all the employees who make the cogs work, as well as the partners and solicitors,” says Griffiths. A day trip to the firm’s Paris office is also part of the placement.
On the final day of the placement candidates face a two-partner interview in which they're asked about their understanding of the role of a City solicitor and why they're interested in Mayer Brown, along with questions testing their commercial awareness and business acumen.
In 2015 the firm received 700 direct training contract applications. Those who impress on the application form are invited to an assessment day. This involves a fact-finding exercise designed to see if you can “think on your feet,” a written exercise and a group task. The day also includes a lunch with some of the firm's trainees, plus a “quite rigorous” competency and strengths-based interview with two partners.
According to Griffiths, “grades are important, but there's always some flexibility on this front – we decide on a combination of factors.” He tells us candidates need to demonstrate they're keen on law, and on Mayer Brown in particular: “We want to see a sense of passion for working here. We don't always know in interviews if someone will be a brilliant lawyer, but we can judge their enthusiasm and dedication to the profession.”
He goes on to reveal he's “a great believer in work experience. Pure legal work is all well and good, but I do like to see people with a diverse range of experience as well. It shows they're inquisitive about their career and have thought deeply about it.”
Apprenticeships for A level students
In mid 2015 Mayer Brown introduced a six-year apprenticeship programme culminating in qualification as a solicitor. The programme consists of a four-year part-time LLB at the University of Law, followed by a traineeship. While studying, students will spend 12 to 18 months working in one of the firm's business services departments. The minimum entry requirement is AAB or equivalent at A level.
The deadline for applications in 2017 is 31 March, with the combined work and study programme commencing in September 2017.
Mayer Brown in Asia
Mayer Brown entered Asia's legal scene via a 2008 merger with Hong Kong's Johnson Stokes & Master. Founded in 1863, JSM was one of the oldest firms in the region. In addition to its Hong Kong HQ, the firm boasted offices in Shanghai, Beijing, Bangkok, Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and Phuket at the time of the merger. Since then, Mayer Brown JSM (as it's now known in Asia) has dropped its Phuket base after a reorganisation in Thailand, and added a Singapore outpost in 2011.
Mayer Brown's two offices in China may be well-established, but they're by no means the sole focus of the firm's work in Asia. News is spreading fast of China's economic slowdown. Throughout the early noughties, it and a number of Southeast Asian nations were lauded as the 'Asian Tigers' thanks to their rapid economic development, modernisation and skilled exploitation of new technology. But a slump in manufacturing and real estate construction has hit China – the strongest of these tigers – in recent years. Though its economy is starting to stabilise – thanks to corporate backing to shore up construction and heavy industry – there is still plenty of pessimism among investors and the global markets.
Despite the gloomy outlook in China, both international lawyers and businesses are increasingly drawn to Southeast Asia. Plans to create a single ASEAN economic community – with a free flow of goods, capital and skilled labour across participating countries – could boost the region's economic development and competitiveness, further integrating it with the global marketplace. As the world continues to look to Southeast Asia to do business, Mayer Brown is well-placed to help out.
Its Singapore office hosts a team of experts in Myanmar law. Mayer Brown is among only eight overseas firms ranked by Chambers UK for expertise in business law in Myanmar (formerly known as Burma). The only big international outfit to open a branch in the country is Duane Morris & Selvam. After fifty years of repressive military government, Myanmar is starting to initiate a programme of economic and social reforms, which include encouraging foreign investment. The lifting of EU sanctions against the state in 2012 has allowed it to develop rapidly in recent years. With rich mineral resources and an offshore gas capacity, the country has been able to attract law firms seeking ample energy and projects work. Mayer Brown is no exception: it recently advised the International Financial Corporation on the $830 million PAU Ammonia Project: this will convert natural gas into a chemical that's used as a raw ingredient in fertilisers and explosives. The firm is also advising several banks (including the Asian Development Bank and Singapore's DBS Bank) as they finance utility company Sembcorp's $300 million power plant – the deal marks the country's first multi-lender project.
Few international law firms have entered the Vietnam market, but Mayer Brown has had a presence in it since 1991. Here the firm picks up top rankings for international trade and banking and finance work; the latter department recently advised Vietnamese property developer Vingroup as it raised $134.1 million by issuing domestic bonds. Mayer Brown's Vietnamese offering is also strong in the M&A, disputes and projects spaces.
Over in Thailand, the firm is ranked for its insolvency know-how. Lawyers here are representing Standard Chartered Bank (Thailand) during manufacturer Canadoil's $1 billion restructuring proceedings. The firm's other Thai clients include a number of banks that require an established firm to advise on large scale international work, often in the insolvency sphere.
London's growing private equity offering
Mayer Brown International LLP
- Partners 87
- Assistant solicitors 130
- Total trainees 30
- Contact Danielle White, graduate recruitment and development manager, 020 3130 8621
- Method of application Online application form
- Selection procedure Online application form, online tests and assessment centre.
- Closing date for March/September 2019 31 July 2017
- Training contracts pa Approx 15
- Applications pa 1,500+
- % interviewed pa 8%
- Required degree grade 2:1 degree or equivalent and AAB at A Level or equivalent
- Training salary
- First year: £42,000
- Second year: £47,000
- Holiday entitlement 25 days
- % of trainees with a non-law degree pa 50%
- Post-qualification NQ salary £71,500
- Overseas offices Bangkok, Beijing, Brussels, Charlotte, Chicago, Dubai, Dusseldorf, Frankfurt, Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Hong Kong, Houston, London, Los Angeles, Mexico City, New York, Palo Alto, Paris, Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Shanghai, Singapore and Washington.
Main areas of work
Work experience programmes
Sponsorship and awards
* Mayer Brown International LLP operates in combination with its associated Illinois limited liability partnerships, a SELAS established in France, a Hong Kong partnership, and its associated entities in Asia, and is associated with Tauil & Chequer Advogados, a Brazilian law partnership.