Energy: it's a core sector at San Fran-founded Orrick, and those looking to burn off lots of it should look no further than this firm's London office.
Up Cheapside I chanced to stray
In the three years since he assumed the chairman's throne, Mitch Zuklie has honed this West Coaster's focus on the energy, finance and tech sectors; struck more of a balance between contentious and transactional work; and secured three years of consecutive revenue growth. He said auf wiedersehen to two German offices that didn't fit with the firm's realigned focus, and replaced them with launches in Houston and Geneva – growing the firm's energy and arbitration practices respectively. And it all bodes well for Orrick's London arm, which, it's fair to say, didn't have an easy ride through the first few years of the 'teenies'. Yes, a string of partner departures, unfulfilled growth forecasts and glitches with the training contract (deferrals and poor retention rates among them) plonked a heavy cloud over Orrick London's Cheapside digs.
“You get to see nearly all of the business.”
But it looks like the wind's changed and a sunnier forecast awaits. In 2015, the firm posted a 100% retention rate for the first time in four years, and at the time of our calls all six of 2016's crop of qualifiers had been offered NQ jobs. On top of this, Zuklie has reiterated his commitment to bulking up the London office to the legal press. Recent lateral additions include a five-member energy team from Hogan Lovells and two partners from US rival Jones Day, boosting the office's private equity and projects oomph. Orrick also instated Peter Roberts as head of its global oil and gas practice, after pinching him from the London branch of Houston-headquartered firm Andrews Kurth.
For trainees, there's been a change to the seat system. The standard four-seat structure has been ditched in favour of six four-month seats. With only seven seats on offer, the new system allows trainees to “sample nearly all of the practices and see nearly all of the business.” Before their first day trainees are allocated their first two seats and “after that you request your next ones two at a time with the possibility of revisiting the ones you enjoy most.” Given that trainees experience most areas in the office, the challenge lies in “trying to get the seats you want in the order you want them in.”
Catching the rays
The real estate department has its own dedicated renewables team, which counts Athos Solar and European Energy among its key clients. “We get a lot of work from our Italian offices,” sources relayed, “as they have a lot solar investment and development companies there.” Much of the work revolves around the “acquiring and selling of solar plants but also sites for wind farms,” with trainees knuckling down on due diligence tasks and drafting the odd option agreement. “It mostly helps you with transaction management, which is important to know how to do!” More responsibility can be granted on the department's retail-oriented work. “It's the main thing the department does,” and the team regularly acts for intu Group – the largest owner of UK shopping centres. “You get your own files with that type of work,” enthused interviewees, “so you lead on things like drafting leases for retail units.” Other specialisms include hotels and healthcare facilities, as well as social housing.
Orrick's expansive litigation remit takes in commercial, employment, competition, regulatory and arbitration work. However, trainees “tend to work on whatever your supervisor's doing,” which is no bad thing as it turns out, as sources got to do lots. On an employment case, one worked on “an investigation into a senior employee at a massive company accused of wrongdoing. I was able to interview the individuals involved and as a trainee I was the first person putting together the evidence.” On the competition side, another had “written the briefing papers on a merger that was taking place – they were submitted to the European Commission!” Commercial cases, meanwhile, saw trainees working “flat out on a complicated partnership dispute. I was gathering key quotes and dates for a discovery exercise, as well as assisting with witness statements and attending the trial.” While cases here are kept under wraps, we can reveal who some of Orrick's well-known clients are: on the employment roster there's Facebook and Ted Baker, while competition lawyers service the likes of Sony and Lucozade.
“You get to be on the phone to the client the whole time."
Corporate is similarly broad: the department covers M&A, venture capital, private equity, emerging markets, IP and infrastructure matters. Recent highlights include advising investment firm Battery Ventures as it sold Texas-based Industrial Safety Technologies for $330 million; French film and TV whiz Canal+ as it made a $14 million investment in iROKO, aka 'the Netflix of Africa'; and the Bioenergy Infrastructure Group on its £200 million investment in a waste-to-energy plant in East Yorkshire. As for the work, “it depends on what sort of trainee you are: some are happy to just get work from their supervisor while others ask around for the work they want.” One source, for example, had managed to get themselves on “two bond offerings, two IPOs, a reverse takeover and a secondary placing.” Another had focused more on solar work, where the deals come in various shapes and sizes: “It's a very busy space for us, so on the smaller deals I've done everything from due diligence to drafting the SPA.” Trainees' tip? Get involved in the venture capital/emerging companies strand of work, as “you get to be on the phone to the client the whole time and draft the investment documents.”
A little on the Cheapside
“We've all worked some weekends,” trainees reported, and while future joiners can expect some intense periods, sources insisted that their “friends at UK firms work just as much or even more than we do.” A corporate seat can be especially taxing, with one interviewee recounting “a month where I worked until midnight most days.” However, this source was a self-confessed “work junkie” who also highlighted that “HR kept in touch to make sure I was coping.” Of all the seats, real estate appeared to offer the kindest hours: “It's been much better – I've been leaving most nights at around 6.30pm.”
While trainees were happy with the responsibility they'd had, they raised a few wrinkles in the training contract that need to be ironed out. First up, “there's not that much transparency” from the US when it comes to decision-making. “It's not a closed book, but it's not a two-way thing,” one summed up, adding: “We had an impromptu meeting when the Houston office was launched, and the chairman comes over to talk about strategy, but it doesn't feel like the US is open to suggestions.” Formal training could also be refined: “Trainees organise their own training by finding people at the firm and getting them to speak to us, usually at a breakfast meeting. But because it comes from the trainees it's not taken that seriously and it's hard to pin senior people down. We'd prefer a more structured system.” Finally, the social life left sources a little cold. Monthly drinks have now been replaced by quarterly socials, which are, according to trainees, “poorly funded and attended.” Luckily, “the trainees are very close, so we go for dinner and drinks often, plus the associates organise their own drinks evenings.”
On a brighter note, Orrick's Cheapside office – close to St Paul's – scored unanimous praise. “It's beautiful: we have the top three floors of the building so we get great views. Trainees usually sit in an office with one other person, and it's a perfectly comfortable arrangement.” The office is close to the swish One New Change shopping centre, so high-street fashionistas will be especially at home. And how many will be staying at Orrick to take advantage of these perks? In the end three out of 2016's six qualifiers took up the firm's NQ offers. The qualification process itself is “fairly informal; we just send an email to HR stating what we want, but most of us speak to the partners first.” There's a bit of a wait as “we're treated as new hires, so you won't hear anything until the US has given budget approval.”
Orrick is increasingly involved in African work. “I worked on a case that stemmed from Tanzania: it was both frustrating and fun to be working on something so unfamiliar.”
How to get an Orrick training contract
Training contract deadline: 30 June 2017
Orrick’s recruitment team usually attend between six and eight law fairs each year. The firm doesn't have a vacation scheme, but it does run four open days each year; the application form for these is the same as that for a training contract. There are four or five training contracts on offer each year, but according to recruitment director Halina Kasprowiak, the number might increase in years to come.
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. 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 City practice.”
The form also includes a covering letter prompted by a few open-ended questions on a candidate’s interests, hobbies and aspirations. “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.”
The firm chooses open day attendees from this application form, while training contract applicants who impress go on to the interview stage.
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 rather than formally assessed. Kasprowiak and her team look out to see whether candidates have remained engaged during all aspects. When it comes to the negotiation exercise, “we’re 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?” Her top tip? Don’t be the one person hogging the limelight.
Those who make a good impression are invited back for a final training contract interview with two partners.
Kasprowiak tells us that around a quarter of incoming trainees have done an open day.
Orrick invites around 40 direct training contract applicants to a first-stage interview. In addition to graduate recruitment staff, a senior associate or an of counsel will be present.
Interviewees are given 45 minutes to read a letter and draft a response. In a 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 thrown in too.
Around 16 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.”
US firms in London
Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP
- Partners 29 (London)
- Associates (incl of counsel) 47 (London)
- Total trainees 10
- Contact Emma Gardner
- Method of application Online at https://www.orrick.com/Careers/Global-locations/Careers-in-the-UK
- Selection procedure Two interviews: first round with recruitment manager and a senior associate/of counsel; second round with two partners
- Closing date for 2019 30 June 2017
- Training contracts pa 4-6
- Required degree grade 2:1
- Training salary (2016)
- First year: £40,000
- Second year: £44,000
- Holiday entitlement 25 days
- Overseas offices Beijing, Brussels, Dusseldorf, Geneva, Hong Kong, Houston, Los Angeles, Milan, Moscow, Munich, New York, Orange County, Paris, Portland, Rome, Sacramento, San Francisco, Seattle, Shanghai, Silicon Valley, Taipei, Tokyo, Washington DC and Wheeling (GOC).
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