‘Be challenged – right from the start’ says MoFo’s graduate website. Sounds about right, say trainees…
Masterminding £24 billion acquisitions of chip designers is the kind of thing City giants do. To learn that Morrison & Foerster’s modest 50-strong London team advised SoftBank on this proposed deal says rather a lot about this high-achieving firm. The trainee sources we spoke to were quite unassuming about their achievements, yet quietly ambitious. But we haven’t told you the whole story: beyond this Moorgate office is a giant organisation, a Californian firm with a particular pedigree in all things Silicon Valley. Although this is emphatically a full-service law firm that amasses Chambers rankings worldwide in corporate, energy or financial areas, it’s really topics like data security, outsourcing and IP that win MoFo its highest accolades in Chambers Global.
American firms in London suffer from the Wall-Street stereotype, but the trainees we interviewed gave their first impressions: “I thought it would be more corporate and less friendly, but I'd shoehorned it into a niche it wasn't in.” The office takes on four trainees, with seats available in corporate, capital markets, litigation, tax, restructuring, and technology transactions. There's also the option of an overseas seat; previous trainees have jetted off to Hong Kong and Tokyo. This year's cohort will be heading to Singapore, but overseas placements “depend on firm's needs in each office.”
“I got to see a lot of cases through from beginning to end”
In the first year, the firm aims to accommodate seat preferences before trainees join. Our sources mostly took the compulsory corporate during the first year. In the corporate department there is occasional cross-over with the firm’s tech side, such as the team’s representation of Hitachi in its joint venture with Johnson Controls. “Corporate was a busy time for me,” reflected a trainee, “it was a relatively small team at the time, so it was all hands on deck. But because of that there was a really high quality of work.” Trainees reported tasks like drafting documents such as share purchase agreements and a bit of classic due diligence, but real responsibility is found in tasks like transaction management: “I got to see a lot of cases through from beginning to end,” said a trainee. Tax work is also covered in this seat, with trainees undertaking advisory work and getting decent client contact.
The Technology Transactions Group (TTG) very often takes on cross-border work because the tech clients tend to be global. Although the work here will naturally be high level, trainees still reported being able to “manage our own things like small start up companies, and drafting of terms and conditions for apps.” Recently the firm worked with big names like CyberSource, Moody's, and dealt with NNIT over its set up in the UK.
The capital markets seat, which also involves some funds and regulatory work, is similarly international in scope, doing mega deals like acting for Bank of America on a €1.5 billion debt offering. Typically, a trainee might receive advisory requests from other offices – Japan was dropped into conversation several times – involving the registration of funds and private placement deals. Trainees noted “a lot of financial regulation research” and “advising overseas clients and colleagues on UK and EU law.” Inevitably, proof-reading and cross-referencing documents also adds to the workload at the junior end.
Our sources felt the litigation seat was “an ideal department for a trainee – there are people at all levels to learn from.” It’s an environment where “you're not thrown in at the deep end.” Trainees can expect to handle general commercial contract disputes – commodities disputes have been a theme this year – bankruptcy disputes, and regulatory, competition and compliance cases. As is the norm in litigation, the seat is “quite research-based,” but our sources were excited to attend trials, sit in on witness interviews, and draft witness statements and advisory notes. The growing civil fraud and white collar crime work the department undertakes adds to the intrigue, with a greater “variety of clients with odd problems,” reflected trainees, although the team also handles white-collar work for more mainstream companies like Landsbanki and Grant Thornton. Whether it’s down to the seat’s popularity or the firm’s strategic growth, “in recent years, a lot of trainees have qualified into litigation.”
Other popular seats include bankruptcy, restructuring and insolvency, tax, and finance. Part way into the second seat you can express a preference for your next two seats, which trainees felt was “very fair. It's a question of chatting to the training principle, who will do their best to accommodate that preference.” We're told the seat abroad mostly includes corporate work, but “if you have an interest in other work, you can make that clear.” The firm sorts out your accommodation and travel arrangements for this.
“I've never had to cancel a social engagement after work!”
“You kind of forget you have actual working hours,” joked one transactional trainee, who felt that corporate was the most demanding. Another said working until midnight was “a semi-regular occurrence” on this seat. And while we did hear extreme tales like a trainee having “three closes in three days and on one night left the office at 5am,” they were one-offs. The firm is quite pragmatic about hours: “If you've got work, you're expected to get it done, but if it's quiet you can pretty much manage your own hours.” There are myths surrounding the hours at American firms, and even though it’s no picnic at MoFo, the firm is far from the most demanding in the City. One source reflected, “so far I've never had to cancel a social engagement after work!”
The UK office may have dodged the extreme US hours culture –“if you don't have any work people don't expect you to stay for the sake of it” – but other traits have travelled across the Atlantic more successfully, in particular the firm's sunny Californian spirit. “Everyone just knows everyone!” delighted one source. “It's pretty informal – people talk to partners in the same way they'd talk to anyone else, and there's not much sense of hierarchy. It definitely suited my personality.”
Mo’ Buda, Mo’ better
Other hallmarks of American firms are commitment to pro bono work and more dialogue and policy surrounding diversity – MoFo does both well. We’ve seen efforts from the firm to hire over 50% females, and MoFo was the first City firm to elect an ethnic minority to managing partner. Trainees also commended the women's affinity group’s events and we heard about a flexible maternity and paternity package in the pipeline. The firm “doesn't expect everyone to be a particular way,” a source emphasised. So are there any common traits in a MoFo lawyer? “You can tell they're a MoFo lawyer if they're cool,” apparently.
Just downstairs, the Rack & Tenter pub is the starting point for many an evening jaunt. The firm also organises fortnightly cheese and wine nights. “The aim is to get everyone to engage,” said one, summarising the firm’s philosophy on socialising, which was at the heart of the Europe-wide retreat to Budapest. Trainees were thrilled about this, which brought together London, Brussels and Berlin lawyers for “an interesting corporate event – with a social side.” In typical transparent style the firm educated juniors and trainees on topics like the firm’s strategy in Europe and how to be a brand ambassador. That was before they hit the Budapest night life…
The qualification process at MoFo is typically casual, but seems to be working: in 2016 all three trainees stayed on.
How to get a Morrison & Foerster training contract
Vacation scheme deadline: 16 January 2017
Training contract deadline: 16 January 2017 (via vac scheme)
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 extra-curricular 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. This year 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 17
- Associates 28
- Total trainees 7
- Contact Lynnsey McCall, head of legal talent and recruitment, 020 7920 4000
- Method of application Online via www.mofocareers.com
- Selection procedure Two interviews: with two associates and grad recruitment, then with two partners and a current trainee Involves giving a pre-prepared presentation and discussing a case study.
- Closing date for September 2019 16 January 2017 (for applications to summer scheme 2017 and training contracts 2019)
- Training contracts pa 4
- Applications pa 1,000
- % interviewed 5%
- Required degree grade 2.1
- Training salary (2015)
- First year: £38,500
- Second year: £43,600
- Holiday entitlement 25 days
- Post-qualification salary (2015) £82,000
- % trainees offered job on qualification 100%
Main areas of work