Knuckling down at San Fran-founded Orrick means energy, tech and finance-related work on tap.
All my life, watching America
Blighty is a bit obsessed with its American cousin. We stare goggle-eyed at its politics, fashion and unwavering gregariousness, while the European affairs on our doorstep often pass us by. But when it comes to Frisco-founded Orrick, it pays to keep abreast of goings-on across the pond. It's been an eventful fistful of years for the firm, which has persistently gathered momentum under the leadership of chairman and CEO Mitch Zuklie, who's racked up four years of consecutive growth. The firm posted a modest revenue rise of 1.8% in early 2017, but impressed further with its hefty haul of 42 lateral hires over the course of 2016. The firm pursues a clear-cut focus on the energy, finance and tech sectors across its international web – a hallmark of its California roots – and it's clearly working: new offices in Houston and Santa Monica have sprouted up within the past eighteen months.
“The London office has continued to grow fairly substantially in 2016/17,” says training principal Anthony Riley. “We're approaching capacity in terms of office space and are currently looking to expand the space available to us.” It shows Brexit hasn't bitten yet, and Riley puts this down to Orrick “being robust in areas such as technology and energy which are less impacted by Brexit.” With global clients like Instagram and Microsoft, the firm needs a strong London outpost. Recent lateral hires have bulked up the office's finance, corporate and venture capital teams – the latter's recognised in Chambers UK, alongside London's commodities and renewable energy work. What's more, there's an ever-increasing pot of Africa-related mandates on offer.
“You gain new perspectives on our work, which is often cross-departmental.”
Trainees experience six four-month-long seats during their contract. With only seven seats on offer, this means that “you more or less get to see the whole firm.” Another trainee explained that “every seat becomes valuable because you gain new perspectives on our work, which is often cross-departmental. Everything comes together by the end of your training contract, and that's incredibly valuable.” Before their first day trainees are allocated their first seat; beyond that they request their next seats two at a time. On the qualification front, Orrick'sbeen turning its reputation for poor trainee retention around: in 2015 and 2016 it made NQ offers to all of its qualifiers. In 2017, it did the same and all four accepted.“We've just spoken to partners in departments we're interested in and haven't had to make applications or undergo interviews.”
The real estate department “is split between the commercial work you might expect and renewable energy deals.” On the energy side there's crossover with Orrick's dedicated energy and corporate departments, and you'll find clients like Bioenergy Infrastructure Group, NextEnergy Solar Fund and BlackRock Renewable UK Income Fund. With solar plants, wind farms and even biomass power stations on the cards, the land being acquired or sold for development is often remote: “It's not going to be on Cheapside! [Orrick London's City home] You'll be researching legal problems and producing due diligence reports on what is often unregistered rural land.” More responsibility can be granted on the department's retail-orientated work. Being the principal adviser to intu Properties Group – the largest owner of UK shopping centres – much of the work concerns “shopping centre deals which are faster-paced and provide more scope for trainees to run small files.” Sources, for example, had managed leases within shopping centres, which involved “talking directly with clients and negotiating the leases.”
Orrick's expansive litigation remit takes in commercial, employment, competition, regulatory and arbitration work. Trainees reported having “bits of work coming from two or three partners across department,”but typically worked with their supervisor on larger, more time-consuming matters: “You become more involved and really get to understand the cases.” One trainee had experienced “a lot of doc review” but others had also conducted “fact-finding interviews” on top of drafting letters to court and particulars of claim. “You're going through transcripts, analysing evidence, producing summaries and working directly with counsel to produce reports – plus your seniors are good about giving feedback throughout.” The team recently acted for English businessman Jeremy Hosking after the asset management firm he co-founded, Marathon Asset Management, sued him for breach of fiduciary duty, claiming £2 billion in damages (they managed to secure £11.7 million in the end). Elsewhere in the department you'll find some very well known clients: on the employment roster there's Facebook and Gap, while competition lawyers service the likes of Sony and PayPal.
“The company is the client's baby and they want to take it forward.”
Corporate is similarly broad – the department covers M&A, venture capital, IP and private equity deals – with a special emphasis on emerging markets, technology, energy and infrastructure matters. Recent highlights include advising StudioCanal on its acquisition of Paddington and Company, which owns the rights to the classic character Paddington Bear; advising French TV company CANAL+ on its $19 million investment in the 'Netflix of Africa,' iROKO; and BlackRock Investment Management on the €40 million acquisition and €310 million debt financing of Tellenes Vindpark – the owner of rights to the Tellenes project, which is set to be Norway's largest wind farm. “We have a checklist of things we should go over so you're encouraged to get a broad range of experience,” sources told us. One described doing “due diligence on M&A deals, but also fund-raising, investment and public company work.” Others recalled being “in charge of the ancillary documents; pinging emails back and forth with the client; and roaming through the data room to assist with the mechanics of completion.” With venture capital work “the company is the client's baby and they want to take it forward. It's more of a hand-holding process where you talk them through each step. Sometimes they'll do the opposite of what you've said, but that's part of the fun!”
“It's not a hard-nosed Wall Street or Chicago firm,” trainees told us, “so there's a slightly different feel in terms of our clients and the work we do.” However, as much as it takes cues from the West Coast, trainees admitted that in “real estate and litigation it leans towards a more traditional English practice, and at the end of the daywe're still operating like a London law firm in terms of our business dress and managing clients' expectations.” The resulting culture had trainees “working very hard, but people do say thank you if you're staying late; if your work is good; and if you've made a contribution. There's also a whole-office atmosphere, instead of individual departments with distinct cultures.”
"There's also a whole-office atmosphere."
It's just as well trainees receive a little thanks. Despite hearing from one real estate trainee who'd “never left later than 7.30pm,” trainees in corporate told us that “the average leaving time on a good day is 8pm; on a bad day it's 11.30pm. If you're working on a completion you can be working that late for a month.” Weekend work was a feature for all, and becoming “overburdened” was a possibility. “As everybody is so busy, it's quite easy for others not to notice that – as long as you're vocal about it people are accommodating and help.” We also heard that Orrick's “monitoring hours a lot closer now, and making changes to ensure we're not being overworked.” For example, corporate will now take in more trainees than it previously did.
With all this in mind, “you need a proactive and independent demeanour in a US firm to get the training you want.” Apart from corporate (where trainees receive “really good training every day for two weeks at the start”) there's “a tradition of trainees organising their own training. One or two take up the mantle of going to partners and associates and asking them if they want to do something.” Social goings-on at the firm are also highly reliant on trainee input: “It fluctuates depending on who the trainees are and whether they're interested.” One described the calendar of firm-organised events as “few and far between,” with a “non-existent” social budget stopping even the most outgoing trainees in their tracks: “We're told it's set by America – a lot of decisions are made over there.” This affects qualification as job offers come only after those in London have “made a business case for each trainee to the department leaders in the States.”
The firm will be increasing its trainee intake to eight in 2019.
How to get an Orrick training contract
Open day deadline (2018): 9 February 2018
Training contract deadline (2020): 29 June 2018 (opens 23 October 2017)
Orrick’s recruitment team usually attend between six and eight law fairs each year. In 2017 they're at the University of Law, Nottingham, Cambridge, York, Leeds, Bristol, Oxford, Exeter, Durham, BPP
The firm doesn't have a vacation scheme, but it does run three or four open days each year; the application form for these is the same as that for a training contract. Orrick has recently increased the number of training contracts on offer each year from just four to six to eight.
Applicants have to list all their academic achievements to date, from GCSEs all the way up to GDL and LPC grades if applicable. Grades for each module studied at degree level are also expected. Recruitment director Halina Kasprowiak tells us: “We don’t have any kind of automatic sifting criteria.” She goes on to say that a 2:2 degree isn’t a deal-breaker, but such an application must stand out in other ways, and supporting academics (A levels or GDL scores, for example) must be impressive.
Applicants are asked to flag any language skills and detail their work experience. “We're open about that,” says Kasprowiak. “You could have worked for a high-street solicitor or spent time at a set of chambers; it doesn’t have to be experience in a City practice, or even specific legal experience. Having worked in a pub or a shop doesn’t mean you don't have transferable skills relevant to a City practice.”
The form also includes a covering letter prompted by a few open-ended questions. “We pay particular attention to the covering letter,” says Kasprowiak. “We’re looking for people who have really thought it through, who write well and get their points across succinctly.”
Orrick's four open days take place around Easter, and there's space for up to nine candidates on each. Applications should be made online via Orrick's graduate recruitment website.
The day kicks off with a presentation on life as a solicitor at the firm, but also involves a drafting exercise; a Q&A session with the current trainees; a lunch with a cross-section of lawyers and paralegals; a business negotiation exercise; and a first-round interview for a training contract. After a jam-packed day, Orrick puts on some drinks in the evening.
Open day participants are observed throughout the day and not just in the interview. Kasprowiak and her team look out to see whether candidates have remained engaged during all aspects. When it comes to the negotiation exercise, the firm is “looking to see how candidates work together as a team – have they divided up the exercise so that each person has had a chance to speak?” Kasprowiak's top tip? Don’t be the one person hogging the limelight.
Those who make a good impression are invited back within a few weeks for a final-stage interview with two partners. In 2017, 25 candidates attended open days and 11 were invited back for a second interview.
Kasprowiak tells us that from this year's intake of six only one had done an open day but typically around a quarter of incoming trainees have done an open day.
Orrick invites around 30 direct training contract applicants to a first-stage interview in the summer. In addition to graduate recruitment staff, a senior associate or an of counsel will be present in the first interview.
Interviewees are given 45 minutes to read a letter and draft a response. In one previous year, the letter took the form of a complaint from a company alleging that its IP rights had been infringed by another company’s product. “They weren't writing as a lawyer but as this respondent company’s owner,” says Kasprowiak, adding: “We gave them an overview of IP law and what certain terms meant.” She tells us the exercise is intended to assess a candidate's commercial awareness and writing ability, not their legal knowledge.
Interviewers discuss a candidate's response “so we can understand their thought process and hear about the next steps they would take from a commercial standpoint.” There's also a discussion of the interviewee's application form plus some competency-based questions.
Around ten to 15 of these interviewees are invited back for a second interview. The second interview sees candidates given 45 minutes to prepare two discussion questions. One has traditionally been a situation one might face as an NQ, though we're told this is subject to change. “A client phones – says they want to buy a hotel and need help. The candidate has to figure out what questions they need to ask the client, what things will need to be discussed at the first meeting, and which colleagues they will be asking to get involved and why,” Kasprowiak explains.
The second question asks candidates to tackle a provision from an agreement that has ambiguities and mistakes in it. They need to spot the errors and reformulate them to make the clause more accurate.
Two partners then interview candidates on these before moving on to standard fare like ‘Why law?’ and ‘Why Orrick?’, plus some current affairs questions. At the end, interviewees have a chance to ask their own questions, something Kasprowiak recommends. "You should always have at least one question to ask to demonstrate that you're truly engaged and interested.”
Interview with training principal Anthony Riley
Chambers Student: How would you review 2016/17 at Orrick's London office?
Anthony Riley: The London office has continued to grow fairly substantially over the past year. We’re approaching capacity in terms of office space and are currently looking to expand the space available to us. We'll be staying where we are but we're reorganising the offices internally to make more space.
Since I joined six years ago there has been steady and sustained growth, and that is ongoing. There was a net gain in partners in 2016, particularly in finance and corporate, and we'll be continuing to grow in line with our three strategic areas of focus: energy and infrastructure, technology and finance.
CS: New office openings, partner hires, and the capital markets team in Hong Kong departing because it fell outside your focus: is this an exciting time for the firm?
AR: I think so. Internationally, we're better aligned now because of our focus on our three main areas. Having offices focusing on the same sectors will enhance everyone's opportunities. We already do cross-border work and the expectation is that that will grow.
With the Hong Kong office, we weren't the only firm, but we were the first big firm to de-emphasise Hong Kong capital markets – I think it's just a reflection of Hong Kong's market, but we are also trying to make sure all of our offices are better aligned with our firm strategy. In line with that strategy, we made a big investment in Houston in 2016/17. That resonated with energy and infrastructure, but also finance. We have a strong public finance practice in the US, and the Houston and New York offices are now the strongest outside of California.
CS: What's the firm's strategy, especially when it comes to London, for the next few years?
AR: We want to continue to increase our profile and our brand of being focused around our key sectors and being recognised experts in those fields. We want to increase our profile on the ground, but there is not a target of reaching a certain number of fee earners. In terms of the training programme, we're increasing the number of trainees we are taking from 2019.
CS: Does London have much say in strategy?
AR: Obviously we can't be fully autonomous – we can't just go and focus on our own sectors, but we have management representation in London and we aren't dictated to. We have an active role in deciding how we execute our plans on those areas and on strategic growth. The increase in trainee numbers, for example, was my suggestion. I thought it was appropriate to grow; we thought about it internally; we talked to management, and we had it approved. We know the market, so we're very much involved in leading the agenda.
CS: Trainees did mention to us that the final decision on recruiting NQs is made in the US...
AR: This subject comes up every year, and I have spoken to trainees about it. The way I describe it is that if we were strictly a UK firm, there would still be a management structure in place, and as training principal I would still have to go and talk to management on that issue. The decision relies on an analysis of our business need at NQ level – the fact that the decision is made in the US is neither here nor there.
CS: How has Brexit been affecting the firm?
AR: We thought long and hard about it at the time of the referendum, but we haven't really seen any impact in the London office. We think this is down to us being fairly robust in areas such as technology and energy which are less impacted by Brexit. Obviously there is going to be some impact though, and some wider market changes.
London is a prime destination for successful tech companies, from start-ups to larger corporations: that's one factor why London will stay attractive. We have great links here on the tech side which a lot of competitors don't have and that's something we can offer to the US market. There are enough UK investors and UK-based companies that the sector shouldn't be affected – never mind the politics.
I also think litigation is fairly Brexit agnostic, and I don't think we have the kind of practice that will be impacted massively by what is happening in the regulatory world.
Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP
- Partners 30 (London)
- Associates 54 (incl of counsel) (London)
- Total trainees 12
- UK offices London
- Overseas offices 24
- Graduate recruiter: Kirsty Russell, email@example.com, 020 7862 4600
- Training partner: Anthony Riley
- Method of application
- Online at www.orrick.com/careers/ london/graduate-recruitment
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 6-8
- Applications pa: 250
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1 or other
- Minimum UCAS points or A levels: Min 3 at A & B
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: 23 October 2017
- Training contract deadline, 2020 start: 29 June 2018
- Open day deadline: 9 February 2018
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £40,000
- Second-year salary: £44,000
- Post-qualification salary: £85,000
- Holiday entitlement: 25 days
- LPC fees: Yes
- GDL fees: Yes
- Maintenance grant pa: £7,000
- International and regional
- Offices with training contracts: London
- Overseas seats: None
- Client secondments: None
Main areas of work
Open days and first year opportunities
University law careers fairs 2017