With good vibes and top-notch tech deals aplenty in London, US firm MoFo clearly hasn't left its heart in San Francisco.
Affectionately-named MoFo is a slick San Francisco law firm known for dishing out top-notch advice to funky tech companies. “We’re cool, that’s just who we are," one trainee joshed. "There’s no one as cool as us.” An audacious claim, but MoFo's impressive work is quite cutting-edge: its TMT, data protection and IP practices all score high marks in Chambers Global, for example, reinforcing MoFo's reputation as a go-to for tech companies. One notable highlight was being lead counsel in Japanese tech giant SoftBank’s headline-grabbing acquisition of UK smartphone chip designer ARM, a deal worth £2.4 billion. This was the largest ever cash investment from Asia into the UK, and the biggest public M&A deal of the year in the UK. It’s also worth noting that MoFo has a cool track record when it comes to diversity, winning a coveted award at this year's Chambers Women in Law Awards.
Considering MoFo’s global reach, its trainee intake is relatively small (four per year), which our interviewees hailed as a plus: “I wanted to go somewhere I could build a name for myself, get more responsibility and be part of a close-knit team working with big name clients.” Another plus was the seat allocation system, which trainees described as pretty flexible. There were reports of departments opening up trainee positions in response to individual wishes: “If you have a strong preference, HR tries to accommodate it.” Being a smaller firm, choices are more limited than at some of its larger City counterparts, but all of our interviewees were happy with their seats, noting: “Historically, most people want to do a litigation seat, but the ratio of seats to trainees means you get to do all of the main ones like corporate, finance, litigation and restructuring.”
MoFo your money
MoFo’s corporate team has recently been bolstered by a few lateral hires from Latham & Watkins, Proskauer and KWM, part of its plan to expand its profile in Europe. The team handles high-value transactions including blue chip multinationals (often US or Japan-based), top global banks and asset managers. As well as the deal with SoftBank, corporate lawyers also recently advised Cherokee Global Brands on its cross-border acquisition of Hi-Tec Sports, a global sports and outdoor company, in a deal worth $96 million. Covering 70 different jurisdictions, the scope of this deal reflects MoFo’s international capabilities, which proved a big draw for its trainees. “I wanted a seat where I’d get a lot of responsibility,” one told us. “To start with, I was drafting resolutions which seemed quite basic, but it got more complex with bigger deals. I got to take the lead on non-disclosure agreements and got involved with convertible loan agreements and large transaction documents.” Trainees enjoyed the pace of the work in corporate: “They try to give more mundane jobs to paralegals instead of trainees, which is really good in terms of experience even though it can be a bit daunting. After a few coffees you usually get it!” Another added: “After a few months I was confident drafting resolutions on my own, and the supervisor is always in the office or at the end of the phone if you need a prompt.”
“I was brought along for pitches and client meetings."
The finance team at MoFo has clients like Ciber (an IT firm), Just Eat, and the Bank of Montreal on its books. The London practice forms part of the global finance group and is said to act as the 'gateway' to the markets of Europe and Asia. Among other tasty assignments, the team recently won the mandate to help Just Eat gobble up Hungry House. It advises both lenders and borrowers; on the lending side this usually means banks, financial institutions, direct lending funds and sponsors. On the borrower side, clients include corporate management teams, but also entrepreneurs and start-ups, a significant portion of which are US and Asia-based. The team provides support to the firms’ growing corporate practice in Europe, as well as stateside and beyond. One insider told us: “In London we often represent buyers, which is less prescribed than working on the bank side of things.” Another said: “I was involved in a major acquisition that involved working with corporate authorities from five different authorities, checking the process, arranging for notarisation, working on debentures and attending the companies’ offices for signing.” The good amount of client contact in the finance seat ticked another box for trainees: “I was brought along for pitches and client meetings and was actively encouraged to network as much as possible.” They also noted the excellent supervision as a bonus in this seat: “Partners appreciate you’re a junior but they still expect you to give 100%.” Insiders were also keen to flag up pro bono work: “You’re supposed to always have something on the horizon. I recently worked on the incorporation of a charity, which involved drafting articles of association, going to the Charity Commission, and other corporate housekeeping tasks.”
“You’re supposed to always have something on the horizon."
The litigation team at MoFo is the second largest in the firm after corporate. The practice deals with some of the biggest and most complex cross-border financial crime, corruption, bribery and money-laundering investigations, as well as high-profile white-collar investigations. One such case cropped up recently in the form of a dispute between Icelandic bank Landsbanki and UK high-street fashion brand Karen Millen. MoFo advised the Icelanders on a £50 million asset recovery and High Court action against the clothes company in the UK, Belgium, Spain and Iceland. Separately, a trainee said they had “worked on a major investigation of a large international company.” Once again trainees stressed that MoFo's smaller intake equals more responsibility: “I’ve been managing a team of reviewers at a financial advisory firm.” Because most of the admin goes to paralegals, trainees are free to get stuck into more challenging matters: “In order to get extra experience, I’ve taken on a pro bono matter which is daunting but exciting! I’m due in court in two months.” Other typical trainee tasks include drafting initial witness statements, note taking, amending document databases and reviewing documents. Finally, sources added: “There’s more structure in litigation because it’s a bigger team, so there’s not the same scope to be put in charge of a matter on your own straight away.”
MoFo fo sho
“As a firm we’re very influenced by the whole San Francisco thing,” trainees emphasised. “It’s become a defined culture, sort of like a start-up. We’re very agile and quick to take up opportunities to modernise.” If Silicon Valley is your cup of tea (or should we say kale smoothie), then MoFo could be the place for you. From Bitcoins to spin classes, the emphasis is firmly on innovative work in a laid-back environment. That’s not to say you’ll necessarily enjoy relaxed hours, however. Late nights inevitably happen – including some until three or four in the morning – but interviewees assured us that “it’s never for no reason and never for a sustained period.”
Aside from all the amenities within the office – including a basement gym and a games room – there’s also plenty of opportunity to socialise out of hours. The office's CityPoint location between the Barbican and Moorgate makes it easy to pop out for dinner or drinks, and there are cheese and wine nights every fortnight. MoFo throws a good party, we hear: “The best one was at the Churchill War Rooms.”
When asked what sort of person MoFo looks for, trainees said: “The firm values people with gumption and a bit of spark. Commercial awareness is key, but you also need to be very switched on while being relaxed.” A colleague added: “There is a push for targets, billing hours and face time, which makes it a little less laid-back than might first appear.” Trainees had no complaints about the qualification process, and who would, when the firm retained three of three qualifiers in 2017?
"We have associates lunches every month which trainees attend, and the chair calls from the US every quarter to talk about strategy."
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How to get a Morrison & Foerster training contract
Vacation scheme deadline: 7 January 2018 (opens 1 September 2017)
Training contract deadline: 7 January 2018 (via vac scheme) (opens 1 September 2017)
Online application form
MoFo only recruits trainees through its vacation scheme and asks candidates to apply by completing its online application form on the careers section of the MoFo website. A 2:1 degree and As and Bs at A level are a must at this stage; any work experience is a plus, but not a requirement. When it comes to extracurricular activities, head of legal talent and recruitment Lynnsey McCall tells us that “applicants who can demonstrate interests that reflect the firm's core areas, or its long-standing commitment to diversity and pro bono, also help an application to stand out.” McCall adds that “significant sporting, musical or charitable achievements can also provide evidence of focus, commitment and determination, which MoFo lawyers need to have.”
Forty of the initial 1,000 applicants are invited for a first-round interview in March or April. This takes place with McCall and two associates and covers the usual 'why law?' and 'why MoFo?' questions. There is also a straightforward legal question for those who have already studied law, as well as a question designed to ascertain commercial awareness. In addition, McCall tells us that “we'll ask quite open-ended questions about a candidate's application to get to know them better. Our trainees come from a diverse range of backgrounds so there's not one key trait we look for, but we do like to see an ability to get on with other people and evidence of a genuine interest in the law.” McCall continues: “Those who strike the right balance between being prepared but not having overly scripted answers tend to make the best impression.”
Twenty aspiring recruits survive to attend a two-stage second interview at the end of April with MoFo's training principal, another partner and one current trainee. Firstly, candidates are tasked with creating a five-minute presentation on a non-legal topic based on current affairs. In 2016 candidates were invited to take a position on either the junior doctors' strike, the use of tax havens or the refugee crisis. Interviewees are then quizzed on their presentation. Co-managing partner Alistair Maughan says: "You don't have to be right but being able to engage in a sensible and mature discussion is the mark of someone who will do well at MoFo." The second part of the process involves reviewing a non-legal case study and discussing it with two associates. “We are looking for people who can identify the key issues and discuss them in a logical way,” McCall reveals.
The vac scheme
Between eight and 12 candidates make it onto either of the firm's two, fortnight-long vac schemes in June and July. Attendees sit in one department per week and tackle tasks which are usually given to trainees. "I was proofreading, researching and writing articles,” one trainee recalled. Students are also set an assessed research project and tasked with organising a themed cheese and wine evening. "The students can have a bit of fun with it but it is also an opportunity to evaluate how they work together in a team and how they manage their time," McCall explains.
Throughout the fortnight, recruiters are keen to see students “building relationships across the whole office, demonstrating their initiative and enjoying themselves.” Feedback on performance during the vac scheme forms the basis of training contract offers. “We invite feedback from everyone in the office – not just partners and associates,” McCall says. So no sucking up to the partners while shoving past the secretaries.
Morrison & Foerster (UK) LLP
One Ropemaker Street,
- Partners 19
- Associates 28
- Totaltrainees 8
- UKoffices London
- Overseasoffices 16
- Graduate recruiters: Lynnsey McCall or Rebecca Nasskau, [email protected], 0207 920 4000
- Training Partner: Jeremy Jennings-Mares
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 5
- Applications pa: 350
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1 or equivalent
- Minimum A levels: AAB
- Vacation scheme places pa: 5 places for the spring vacation scheme and 15 places for the summer vacation schemes
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: September 2017
- Training contract deadline, 2020 start: 7 January 2018
- Vacation scheme applications open: 1 September 2017
- Vacation scheme 2018 deadline: 30 November 2017 (spring), 7 January 2018 (summer)
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £46,000
- Second-year salary: £50,000
- Post-qualification salary: £90,000
- Holiday entitlement: 25 days
- LPC fees: Yes
- GDL fees: Yes
- Maintenance grant pa: Yes
- International and regional
- Offices with training contracts: None
- Overseas seats: Hong Kong and Singapore
- Client secondments: From time to time subject to client requirements
In Europe we have a team of 120 lawyers in our strategic hubs of London, Berlin and Brussels. We work alongside our colleagues in the US and Asia, drawing on cultural, jurisdictional and market knowledge to deliver the best advice and client service with a global approach.
Dynamic technology companies, significant financial investors and financial institutions, leading consumer product companies and other market leaders come to MoFo for our expertise, knowledge, advice, commerciality, transaction support and individually tailored client service. We handle some of the world’s largest cross-border transactions and resolve some of the biggest disputes across multiple jurisdictions.
Our firm was built on and continues to succeed because of the talent of our lawyers and their innovative approach to the practice of law. We practice in a collegial environment where we value teamwork and diverse perspectives and operate as one firm.
As our nickname suggests, we take our work seriously but we don’t take ourselves too seriously.
Main areas of work
University law careers fairs 2017
• University of Nottingham: 23 October
• London School of Economics: 24 October
• University of Oxford: 4 November
• University of Manchester: 14 November
• Durham University: 21 November
• King’s College London: 24 October