“It's not a US boutique firm and it's not in the magic circle,” but you can bet your bottom dollar the cases are just as big and the work just as complex at this elite global law firm.
“Mayer Brown is a very attractive firm for anyone who is going into law without a definitive idea of what lawyer they want to be” – that's the consensus from this year's trainee cohort. “Compared to other firms, particularly US firms that specialise in corporate or finance, Mayer Brown has a strong breadth of practice areas across the board." They have clearly been paying attention to their firm's marketing materials: "It's a full service law firm that offers high quality international work but at the same time leaves options open for more niche specialist areas.” So how do these claims stack up? Well, the firm isn't called Mayer Brown International for nothing. Once an old English firm, Rowe & Maw, before merging with Mayer Brown in 2002, the London office is now a big cog in the legal machine which boasts 25 offices across the Americas, Asia, Europe and the Middle East. Last year the firm opened its first office in Dubai, and it's one of the relatively few firms in this guide that does significant work in Africa. Recently, for example, MB oversaw the refinancing of a $350 million revolving loan facility for African mining company Endeavour Gold Corporation. Spanning three continents, the deal covered ten jurisdictions including Burkina Faso, Australia, Germany and Canada.
“It's a full service firm.”
How about that “strength of practice across the board” claim?With 32 Chambers UK rankings, including gold stars for professional negligence, corporate, employment, and insurance, Mayer Brown certainly offers trainees a broad remit of work. And the “niche specialist areas”? London is the firm's specialist hub for its highly regarded energy & natural resources, construction, and engineering practices. Happy days if these practices are your cup of tea. However, future Brownites should note that within larger seats like corporate and finance – which house various subgroups – trainees are encouraged to sample a variety of work rather than home in on a particular area. The trade-off is “less specialism but a greater knowledge of more practice groups.”
Feedback was a little frosty on the subject of overseas seats. Trainees were unanimous in flagging a discrepancy between what the firm advertises and the actual availability of coveted postings abroad: “Overseas seats are not readily available despite what they advertise on their website,” vented one. We heard for example that the usual spots in Hong Kong and New York have not been available in the last two rotations, but graduate recruitment told us it will be offering overseas seats in Chicago and Hong Kong going forward. Still, trainees can still expect to bag themselves a place on a client secondment, which almost all of them do. Options include investor services client Moody's, consumer products giant Unilever, and insurance firm Chubb. Placements here help “hone your client skills at an early stage.” While the prospect of being “thrown into the big bad world six months into your training contract” may be a daunting prospect, sources reassured us that “they're all long-established clients and are not expecting a polished lawyer.”
Trainees here undergo four six-month seats, one of which the firm pushes to be a client secondment. Of the remaining three, one must be transactional and another contentious. Trainees submit their three ranked preferences to HR, who give an indication of availability based on business needs and over-subscription. “Sometimes it gets too competitive for seats and people are disappointed,” reflected one trainee, who acknowledged that HR colleagues “are very transparent, always justify their choices, and push for your top choice next time round if you failed to get any of your preferences in the previous rotation.”
Mayer sit here?
The 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. “You're not pigeon-holed into any of the subgroups” trainees made clear. “I was jumping from doing IPOs, to acquisitions, to rights issues, to some private equity work. I even did a corporate real estate deal for the Leadenhall Building – aka the 'Cheesegrater'.” Insiders indicated that a lot of the work is document management – verification and due diligence – but emphasized that “so long as you can prove you're competent and enthusiastic you'll never be confined to menial work, and they'll always let you have the first stab at drafting.” One deal of late saw solicitors represent financial services giant Wells Fargo on its acquisition of part of GE Capital for $1 billion.
“You're not pigeon-holed into any of the subgroups.”
Those looking to satisfy contentious cravings will find much to chomp on in one of the firm's litigation seats: commercial dispute resolution (CDR), construction, and insurance. Litigation lawyers have, in the past, acted for hotelier Chen Mei Huan in a long-running share ownership dispute and defended two former directors of MMI Research against unlawful dividend payment allegations. The CDR team is one of the few in the City with pensions litigation expertise, alongside the more standard M&A, shareholder, and technology-related disputes prowess. Insurance lit is equally broad, and trainees report working on everything from professional indemnities and political risk to liability claims. “Every trainee in any contentious role has to do bundling,” insiders lamented, but added: “You also get involved drafting correspondence with the other side, drafting reports and conducting legal research.”
Three places are available each seat on the contentious side of construction, whereas just one trainee sits on the non-contentious, transactional side: “It starts off with quite rigid boundaries, but there is scope to work on both sides so long as you make yourself known and the work capacity is there.” On both sides trainees highlighted the work as “prescriptive, highly technical and mostly international,” much of it focused in North Africa and the Middle East. Recently, the London, Hong Kong and São Paulo offices teamed up to advise Brazilian shipbuilding yard Estaleiro Atlântico Sul on contracts for the supply of eight crude oil carriers.
The banking & finance department has nine subgroups which handle things like real estate finance, capital markets work, and project finance deals. It has a particularly strong asset-based lending (ABL) arm, and works with major financial clients including Barclays, Citibank, HSBC and Deutsche Bank. As in corporate, banking & finance trainees are “generalists, which ensures exposure to a variety of a work.” Consistent with the firm's meritocratic approach, insiders emphasised “the opportunity for more advanced work should you prove you can handle it: I started drafting basic fee letters but by the end of the six months was given amendments to drafts of inter-creditor agreements.” Recent case highlights include breach of contract claims against two brokers based in Qatar involving equities sales for HSBC.
Tax is one of the smaller departments and “advises lawyers across the firm on anything tax-related that comes up in transactions.” The team is strong on the corporate tax aspects of M&A so often supports colleagues in corporate, but it also provides standalone tax advice for clients. Providing sound advice requires research, so trainees can expect to busy themselves “looking at how tax research is to be interpreted and analysing articles released from HMRC.” Tax is notoriously tricky sometimes, so trainees were pleased with the “variety of bespoke training received.” They also found some of the non-billable work useful: “We've done a lot of work concerning the new finance bill that has been recently published – helping to create a summary report of its implications and then rolling that out to clients.” Recently, the team acted for Hong Kong conglomerate Dah Chong Hong on its acquisition of Li & Fung's consumer and healthcare distribution business, covering mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines, Indonesia and Brunei.
Star Spangled Jack
Hours here are comparable with other top US and magic circle firms: 12-hour days, occasional harsh patches of 90-hour weeks, and some lost weekends were a reality for this year's interviewees. “You get used to it, though, and often it's such a good team environment that you don't even notice,” trainees assured us. On the flipside, late nights are rewarded with late starts, and “supervisors encourage you to leave early when its quiet, especially if they know you've had a busy patch.” Hours in the tax and pensions seats are less demanding, the average day for most falling between 9am and 7pm. In the particularly-gruelling corporate and finance seats, sources felt that “sometimes expectations can be too high.” Despite the long hours, trainees pointed to “the fact there is a legacy of partners who are here from pre-2002 days that ensures the firm retains the feel of a London-based firm.” However, despite calling Mayer Brown “friendly” with “not too rigid a City culture,” insiders couldn't pinpoint an overall defining culture: “I think it varies between department. Corporate is more laid back whereas litigation is slightly more hierarchical, and finance is more studious – there isn't loads of chatting there.”
A small trainee intake means “it's close-knit between the trainee year groups” who regularly organise games of bowling, beer pong, sports teams and Friday night drinks at the White Horse near Liverpool Street station. “The social life is good but there is no trainee budget so we organise it all.” The firm is apparently more willing to dish out the dough when it come to other events. The firm-wide Christmas Party was last held at the luxurious Andaz Hotel near the office – “a late night that came with free booze, canapés and bacon sandwiches near the morning!' Departments also hold their own parties: “In corporate it was held in a secret venue – all we got told was the address and theme.”
Qualification is the elephant in the room at Mayer Brown and it's a rather big one. Although NQ rates saw an improvement in 2016 with tenof 13 qualifiers kept on, trainees remained unconvinced that the firm had turned over a new leaf. Here's what they had to say: “There is no transparency, we just don't know what's going on. Every six months there seems to be an issue and we all don't understand how it's not seamless – and the process starts far too late.” The consequences are that although “everyone would like to stay, people are forced to keep their options open and are talking to recruiters at other firms.” In response to these concerns the firm has moved the start of the NQ process forward by a month. And not every insider was critical, with some pointing to “recent staffing transitions” as being responsible for a few bad years retention-wise, adding that “partners have been very frank about how tough the market is currently.” In the end retention in 2017 was okay with 12 out of 15 qualifiers kept on.
Trainees heaped on the praise for the firm's vacation scheme which dishes out “real responsibility” and includes a day trip to Paris.
How to get a Mayer Brown training contract
Vacation scheme application deadline: 31 January 2018 (spring and summer, opens 1 November 2017)
Training contract application deadline: 31 July 2018 (opens 1 November 2017)
Mayer Brown runs three vacation schemes each year: two in the summer and one in the spring. There are ten places available on each two-week programme, and the firm generally receives 1,200 applications for its vacation schemes..
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, have a telephone interview 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 for 30 minutes 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. The majority of the firm's trainees are recruited through the vacation schemes and the firm stresses that it welcomes vac scheme applications from final-year students and graduates too.
In 2016/17 the firm received 800 direct training contract applications. Those who impress on the application form and online assessments are invited for a telephone interview followed by 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 2015 Mayer Brown introduced a six-year articled apprenticeship culminating in qualification as a solicitor. The programme consists of a four-year part-time LLB at BPP, followed by a traineeship. While studying, students will spend their first 12 months working in one of the firm's business services departments followed by five years in different legal practice groups. The minimum entry requirement is AAB or equivalent at A level.
The deadline for applications in 2018 is 31 March, with the combined work and study programme commencing in September 2018.
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 with GDP growth of 6.7% for 2016 – thanks to corporate backing to shore up construction and heavy industry – there is still plenty of pessimism about China among investors and the global markets. Growth is much lower than it was a decade ago and there is some concern about the Chinese government's truthfulness on growth rates.
Despite the gloomy outlook in China, both international lawyers and businesses are increasingly drawn to Southeast Asia. The establishment of the ASEAN economic community – with a free flow of goods, capital and skilled labour across participating countries – has been a major milestone in the area's regional economic integration, offering opportunities in the form of a huge market of $2.6 trillion and over 622 million people (ten Great Britains). 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 ranked by Chambers Global among the top five firms for experts in business law based abroad in Myanmar (formerly known as Burma). The only big international outfit to open a branch in the country is Duane Morris & Selvam. After 50 years of repressive military rule, 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: the firm has recently advised on a potential investment into two greenfield 150-megawatt renewable power projects and advised ADB and IFC on loans extended to Ooredoo Myanmar Limited for the expansion of its telecoms network in Myanmar.
Few international law firms have entered the Vietnam market, but Mayer Brown has had a presence there since 1991. Since 1990, Vietnam's GDP per capital growth has been among the fastest in the world, averaging 6.4% a year in the 2000s. Mayer Brown picks up top rankings for international trade and banking and finance work here; the latter department recently advised Vietnamese property developer Vingroup as it raised $134.1m 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 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.
Private equity explained
Mayer Brown International LLP
- Partners 85
- Associates 160
- Totaltrainees 30
- UK offices London
- Overseas offices 24
- Graduate recruiter: Charlotte Hart, graduate recruitment and development manager, 020 3130 8622
- Training partner: Will Glassey
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 15
- Applications pa: 1,500+
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1
- Minimum A levels: AAB
- Vacation scheme places pa: 30
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: 1 November 2017
- Training contract deadline, 2020 start: 31 July 2018
- Vacation scheme applications open: 1 November 2017
- Vacation scheme 2018 deadline: 31 January 2018
- Open day deadline: 31 January 2018
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £42,000
- Second-year salary: £47,000
- Post-qualification salary: £75,000
- Holiday entitlement: 25 days
- LPC fees: Yes
- GDL fees: Yes
- Maintenance grant pa: £7,000 (London), £6,500 (elsewhere)
- International and regional
- Offices with training contracts: London and Hong Kong
- Overseas seats: Hong Kong, Chicago
- Client secondments: Several clients in London
Main areas of work
We are looking for candidates who not only have a consistently strong academic record including a minimum of a 2:1 degree (predicted or obtained) in any discipline, but also who have a wide range of interests and achievements outside their academic career. Additionally, we would like to see innovative candidates who can demonstrate a drive for results, good verbal and written communication skills, and an ability to analyse, with good judgement and excellent interpersonal skills.
Open days and first-year opportunities
University law careers fairs 2017