LA-originated Paul Hastings is a prestigious finance and real estate outfit, and a rare expert on the elusive Bitcoin.
May the odds be ever in your favour
The Paul Hastings trainees we interviewed were very commercially switched-on, and knew exactly what they wanted before they joined: that full-on experience of "big-ticket work and lean staffing." With better exposure to partners, sources found that "as a trainee you have quite a significant role – they want to treat you like an associate – it's a great place for me to learn!" Now, this formula doesn't make the firm unique; there are several US firms in London targeting the best graduates and challenging the traditional elites with high salaries and responsibility to match. So why do trainees recommend this LA-born firm? "They give you as much as you can cope with, but it's no Hunger Games. We achieve together as a firm." No matter how driven the firm is, to retain that sense of humanity and shared duty has a big impact on the lawyers' happiness – this was one reason why Paul Hastings topped our ranking for the happiest law firms in our US sister guide last year.
The firm has 21 offices across the US, Asia and Europe, and aims “to be increasingly global in outlook – to become a one-stop shop for our clients who have dealings across the world,” reveals London partner Arun Birla. Fittingly, it's a pretty cosmopolitan place at the junior end, and a haven for linguists. We heard of one trainee who had "worked with the Milan and Paris offices," and of another who aimed to work in East Asia at one point.
"A one-stop shop for our clients who have dealings across the world.”
Across the world, Paul Hastings is best known for high finance and capital markets, and that's the case here in London too, where PH's team gets decent marks from Chambers UK for both securitisation and high-yield products. Other stand-out disciplines are payments law, real estate finance, real estate funds, and hotels and leisure. All this has contributed to another bumper year, with a record posting of just over $1 billion for 2016. Both in the US and in London, Paul Hastings has continued its recent trend of hiring laterally, responding to growth opportunities: in 2016 the firm poached a three-partner finance team from Ashurst to create a collateralised loan obligations and structured finance team. And, to our interviewees' excitement, the firm has also hired a white-collar crime partner – a move which might mean a future trainee seat. Introducing this "sexy area of law" will be a welcome move, trainees thought, since there is currently only one contentious seat in this notably transactional training contract.
The allocation process is “a fairly informal process,” by which you express a few preferences and HR try to accommodate them. “Because it is a small office, there's an element of luck, but if you keep asking you are likely to get it by your final seat.” There's an unwritten rule that trainees should do a real estate seat, but this could mean a stint in corporate real estate, real estate finance or capital markets.
Corporate real estate involves a lot of hotels and hospitality, and includes some massive clients like Hilton Hotels, Starwood Capital, Thomas Cook and Deutsche Bank. A lot of the work includes managing clients' portfolios and acquiring or selling assets. Recently the firm advised Goldman Sachs on the acquisition of 12 Travelodge hotels across the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland for €60 million, as also Invesco Real Estate on the sale of a €415 million property portfolio to a Swedish fund. On large cases like these, the trainee might typically “take ownership of the paperwork, advise the team on what we need to get for that, draft board minutes, and then do due diligence.” And with so many hotel clients, there are more offbeat tasks, as one trainee explained: "I spent a lot of time working with hotels on wedding facilities, transferring licences and IP.”
Just a Lil Bitcoin
Paul Hastings' M&A and private equity deals typically involve huge sums and bring in the firm's whole network: "A lot of work comes from the US, but other offices chip in." There's "more variety of sectors" in this department, which this year has dealt with tech companies, international oil firms, large infrastructural transactions, and life sciences companies. In this seat, we heard “there's a lot of excitement – with the pound going down, inbound M&A investment is more attractive.” Recent achievements include advising the American company DexCom, a provider of glucose monitoring technology, on its purchase of the pan-European distribution company Nintamed, and assisting the Filtration Group on its £220 million acquisition of the UK-based Essentra Porous Technologies. A corporate trainee would commonly spend a lot of time on due diligence, preparing board minutes and drafting ancillary documents.
"It's a massively international seat."
If you're a little baffled by new terms like bitcoin and blockchain, Paul Hastings will get you up to speed: the firm is one of only a handful of market experts in payments law, according to Chambers UK. Long lists of global tech companies and financial organisations – Facebook, Visa, Lloyds Bank, Sainsbury’s Bank, PayPal, for example – need the firm's expertise in this fast-moving area of law that encompasses data protection and privacy. The firm's literature summarises the subject matter as "virtual currency, e-money, mobile banking ventures, and global money transfer programs." A trainee elaborated: "A lot of clients are working online and with apps – its not an anchored industry – so it can expand quickly, but with loads of regulations to deal with." This is an advisory seat, where trainees are tasked with researching how regulations affect services. "We have to keep up with new developments and statutory requirements, and inform the team and also clients via memos." Keeping informed is vital in this seat: “I've organised workshops for clients on how changing regulations will affect them, and partners from Atlanta and LA have come down to do joint presentations with us to the clients,” a trainee explained. "It's a massively international seat."
Since the team from Ashurst joined, there are new trainee opportunities in a collateralised loan obligation seat, which “everyone wants to do.” This is a particularly funky area of finance, where the firm gets to securitise groups of mortgages and perform £98.5 millionrepo financing deals for Morgan Stanley, for example. When they're not frantically googling what repo facilities or RPI swaps are, trainees have found themselves “getting into the nitty gritty of drafting agreements.”
“...getting into the nitty gritty of drafting agreements.”
Pro bono is a much bigger deal in the US, so accordingly the Los Angeles headquarters strongly encourages this. There are plenty of high-profile team-ups with charitable organisations, including working with UNICEF on how the Modern Slavery Act may affect children's rights, through to teaching basic finance in primary schools. Trainees can take time out of their billable hours to do this, but admit that it can be tough to stick to these commitments with the workload. The working day at Paul Hastings is adjusted a tad to overlap with LA time – trainees typically come in at 9:30am, and leave at 8pm on a normal day. “It doesn't live up to the horror stories you get about the culture at American firms,” our sources claimed. Nevertheless, all-nighters can be common around closes, especially in corporate, and one trainee declined to tell us the hours they'd worked recently. Like most firms at this end of the market, answering calls on the weekends is normal, but at PH there's a reassuring blitz spirit: “We don't leave people behind,” trainees agreed. “Sometimes you might have to cancel plans to help someone in the team.” Paul Hastings belongs to a class of high-achieving firms that looks for resilient, driven people who know they're up to the challenge. Like many trainee classes of this size, the retention process is "informal," where HR aims to reconcile a qualifier's department aspirations with business needs. In 2017 six of eight NQs stayed at the firm.
“It's a small trainee intake and there is a total of about 150 people in the office, so we really do become close," reflected a trainee. "We naturally turn to each other for support.” The appraisal system involves a fairly informal mid-seat chat and coffee with your supervisor – though sometimes it can be so informal that it doesn't happen, apparently. But thankfully, there's no shortage of expertise on tap, with trainees usually sharing an office with their supervisor. The office is located in the same building as Allen & Overy in buzzing Spitalfields. Trainees regularly get together on Fridays, when they might libate among the water features on Exchange Square or head out to Shoreditch. As a reminder of the firm's heritage, it puts on a bagel spread every Friday. There are also cheese and wine nights, or bowling, ping pong and mini-golf tournaments, and one trainee recalled a time “we were in making candy till late once and then went to dinner after.”
“Because there isn't a culture for hand-holding, you should take the first step to ask questions, and ask associates to go for lunch.”
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How to get a Paul Hastings training contract
Training contract deadline: 31 July 2018 (opens 1 October 2017)
The recruitment team at Paul Hastings attend five law fairs each year. Oxford, Cambridge, UCL, Kings and LSE are usually on the list.
The firm doesn't run a formal vacation scheme, but it does offer up to 12 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 Yvette Croucher, talent acquisition and development manager, 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 250 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 other 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, resilient and mature. I know which characters and personalities will fit in well here.”
Approximately 20 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 12 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
- Associates 55
- Total trainees 12-14
- UK offices 1
- Overseas offices 20
- Graduate recruiter: Yvette Croucher, [email protected]
- Training partner: Arun Birla, [email protected]
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 6
- Minimum required degree grade minimum: 2:1
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: 1 October 2017
- Training contract deadline, 2020 start: 31 July 2018
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £45,000
- Second-year salary: £50,000
- Post-qualification salary: £110,000
- Holiday entitlement: 25 day
- LPC fees: Yes
- GDL fees: Yes
- Maintenance grant pa: Yes
- International and regional
- Offices with training contracts: Hong Kong
- Overseas seats: None
- Client secondments: Potential
Main areas of work