This real estate and finance powerhouse offers top-notch work to a small but growing trainee cohort.
Off the PH scale
Don't go confusing Los Angeles-headquartered Paul Hastings with some breezy Cali firm that divides departments with volleyball nets and has a very relaxed stance on footwear. PH means business, and it's built a global reputation for topping the charts in all things corporate, litigation, employment, real estate and tax. It now has a network of 20 offices across the US, Asia and Europe, and its London hub ensures that the PH brand is well represented in the UK. Chambers UK gives a top nod to the London office for its financial services practice – one of the UK's best for payments law – and also rates the base for its capital markets and real estate finance capabilities.
“It's a good time to join the firm,” agreed our trainee sources. “People are very positive about the way things are going, and there's a real 'wind in the sails' feeling taking hold.” Increasingly healthy finances have helped to keep the mood buoyant; between 2011 and 2015 the firm's total revenue rose by 20% to $1.06 billion. These glowing figures have had a trickle-down effect on the London office, where a marked investment in lateral hiring has occurred: over the past year PH has snared lawyers from the likes of Linklaters, BLP, King & Wood Mallesons and Ashurst, boosting the scope of its corporate and finance offering. But how will PH make room for all these new faces? “We'll be moving some people to our additional premises by the end of 2016,” we were told. “Thankfully, it's only a five-minute walk away from where we are currently!” Headcount has also risen in the trainee ranks, where the firm looks to take on four new starters each year.
“There's an unwritten rule that you'll do at least one real estate seat.”
Before each subsequent rotation, trainees get to rank their preferences during “an informal chat with HR.” Sources could raise any in-house ambitions during these meetings too, as PH offers a handful of secondments with clients such as Hatfield Philips and Lloyds. “We're encouraged to go on a secondment if possible,” trainees noted. “The firm recognises that it's a good way to strengthen client relationships, while also allowing us to broaden our commercial awareness in an in-house environment.”
PH's corporate real estate faction is big in the hotels and hospitality sector, and frequently oversees acquisitions of hotels in London and abroad. Key clients include Hilton, Hyatt and property investor Starwood. Lawyers recently advised the latter on its £200 million acquisition of a portfolio of over 100 luxury apartments, as well as several restaurants, offices and retail units in London. The team also handled the £150 million sale of the Ace Hotel – one of Shoreditch's trendiest hipster hangouts. “I acted for more purchasers in sales,” one source noted, “but we also act for sellers and do quite a lot of lease and licence work too.” Rookies here were thrilled to have been entrusted with first drafts of leases, and on transactions had been busy producing due diligence reports for clients and managing the ancillary documents. “All of the cases are quite high in value, so it's unlikely you'll run any of your own files,” we were told. Still, “you'll definitely get more responsibility on a smaller matter.”
"... that's given me a good opportunity to work directly with clients.”
High-value, cross-border M&A and private equity deals are key on the corporate team, which like other departments has built its name servicing clients in the financial services, payment systems and hospitality sectors. Inbound investment from the US and Asia has also continued to be an important focus: one lucrative recent example saw the firm help Manchester City's holding company, City Football Group, secure a $400 million equity investment from a consortium of Chinese investors. “I've been assisting on a number of big deals,” enthused one source. “It's been quite an internationally focused seat, as a large number of our corporate transactions encompass multiple jurisdictions. I'm always on the phone with our US offices, and with counsel in locations where the firm doesn't have a presence.” Trainees had also been able to prepare and review memos to help clients keep on top of market trends. “We anticipate drafting plenty more of these to keep clients up to date with the developments surrounding Brexit,” sources added.
In the payments law team, fee earners advise the likes of Facebook, Lloyds and Airbnb on regulations tied to virtual currency, mobile banking ventures, money transfer programs and data privacy. Trainees draft memos and research banking and regulatory laws in different jurisdictions, so “it's crucial to keep up to date with current affairs,” one interviewee advised. “I would constantly set daily alerts for news articles about challengers in our clients' markets, Brexit updates, and new innovations in payment technology.”
"I was nervous about being at a US firm,” one insider confessed. “At law school you hear a lot of stories about people living in sleeping pods.” But PH is mercifully sleeping pod-free at the moment. “You can leave at 6pm if you get your work done,” said one, “though leaving between 8pm and 11pm is more realistic. The most regular thing about the hours is that they're regularly late!” We even heard of rookies pulling all-nighters, though “thankfully most supervisors adopt a 'no man left behind' policy.” In fact, these late shifts “are often an excellent chance to take on more advanced responsibilities.”
A recent increase in formal training has also helped trainees rise to the occasion. “When I first joined, the programme was a little patchy, with just the odd session once every few weeks,” a second-year reminisced. “But with more trainees joining us, the firm has been putting in a lot more effort; seminars or presentations are scheduled at least once a week.” Sessions cover everything from communicating with clients to managing a closing. Trainees' progress is also monitored during “casual mid-seat reviews over coffee,” and formally assessed at end of seat appraisals.
PH resides in the same glossy building as Allen & Overy, smack bang in London's trendy Spitalfields district. Trainees tend to share offices with their supervisors, while “the support staff sit open-plan in the middle of the building.” Unfortunately, “that's the only real space in which you can socialise. There's no canteen.” Nevertheless, the PH lot are a gregarious bunch, and “we'll often schedule informal drinks in Shoreditch on a Friday night, and partners come along too.” The firm also runs quarterly trainee socials, and future joiners usually tag along for every other meet-up. “We recently went to a fancy darts bar in Clerkenwell, and we've also been bowling and done spray-painting courses,” one source divulged. “It's always good to meet the next round of trainees, as it makes it much easier to get to know them properly in a year's time.”
In 2016, two of PH's three qualifiers stayed on with the firm.
How to get a Paul Hastings training contract
Training contract deadline: 31 July 2017
The recruitment team at Paul Hastings attends four law fairs each year. Oxford, Cambridge, UCL and LSE are usually on the list.
The firm doesn't run a formal vacation scheme, but it does offer up to ten work placements each year, usually in late spring and early summer. These last a week each and are unpaid. Interested candidates should apply directly to special consultant Yvette Croucher with a CV and cover letter.
Croucher informs us that she's more inclined to offer placements to those who might not otherwise get a chance to gain experience in a City practice. Put it this way: if you've already completed six vac schemes with City firms, it's unlikely you'll land an offer.
Paul Hastings receives up to 200 applications each year for its training contracts. Croucher tells us that the quality of applicants has “dramatically improved” in recent years, making the process of selecting a shortlist (of around 20) a difficult one.
Trainee hopefuls need a consistently impressive set of A levels and GCSEs, and a minimum 2:1 degree. Yvette Croucher tells us the firm is on the lookout for those A and A* grades, and also reveals that many applicants have postgraduate qualifications like LLMs or master's degrees. When it comes to work experience, the firm “likes to see a variety, not just law firm vac schemes,” she says. “Some of our applicants have legal experience – if they've worked as a paralegal, that's particularly good – whereas others have broader City or corporate experience, which also makes them more appealing.”
The application form is divided into four sections: academics, work experience, hobbies and interests, and finally a group of open-ended questions like 'Why do you want to be a City lawyer?' and 'What can you offer Paul Hastings?'
Croucher has 15 years' worth of experience as a practising lawyer, “and I bring that to bear when I'm recommending candidates to put through to the interview stage,” she says. “Once someone's satisfied the academic criteria, it really comes down to getting a feel for the candidate. We're seeking people who are well rounded and mature. I know which characters and personalities will fit in here.”
Between 15 and 18 applicants make it through to the first interview, which takes place with Croucher and training principal Arun Birla. “It's very informal and an opportunity for us to find out more about their background – how they think and why they are interested in our firm,” Croucher reveals. “We help them relax so they can speak honestly about their experiences.”
Around eight to ten are invited back for a second interview, which lasts for a whole morning or afternoon. This takes place with two partners and is, according to Croucher, “very fluid – we have questions that we ask across the interviews in order to be consistent, but overall it's free-flowing and reactive to the candidate's responses.” The interview is accompanied by a written assessment that involves reading and analysing a legal document. This tests a candidate's ability to digest information and summarise it succinctly.
Performing particularly well on one part of the interview process doesn't seal a candidate's success. As Croucher stresses: “It's about overall performance and demonstrating that you have the qualities needed to thrive in a US practice.”
Among these qualities are maturity, sound judgement, resilience and ambition. Candidates must also be confident and personable. “It's a small office, and we often end up working across practice groups, so you have to be able to get along with people,” Croucher says. “Personality is key, as is the ability to thrive in a fast-paced environment where the expectations are high.”
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Paul Hastings (Europe) LLP
Ten Bishops Square,
- Partners 27
- Assistant solicitors 55
- Total Trainees 12-14
- Contact [email protected]
- Method of application Online application form available on website
- Selection procedure Interview and written assessment
- Closing date for 2019 31 July 2017
- Training contracts pa 6-7
- Required degree grade 2:1
- Training salary
- First year: £45,000
- Second year: £50,000
- Holiday entitlement 25 days
- Post-qualification salary (2016) £110,000
- Overseas/regional offices Atlanta, Beijing, Brussels, Chicago, Frankfurt, Hong Kong, Houston, London, Los Angeles, Milan, New York, Orange County, Palo Alto, Paris, San Diego, San Francisco, Seoul, Shanghai, Tokyo, Washington DC
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