This venerable Bostonian gives trainees plenty of rope as they navigate the high seas of finance.
There's nothing ropey about Ropes & Gray. In fact, the firm's credentials are rather impeccable. This 152-year-old Boston-born outfit has a penchant for high finance and boasts 11 offices that stretch from techy Silicon Valley to Tokyo. Since the London office opened in 2010, it's moved to slick new City premises at Ludgate Hill and amassed Chambers UK rankings for banking & finance (on both the borrower and sponsor side), private equity, capital markets, and restructuring/insolvency. Sources made it clear that Ropes exerted a strong pull on their pre-training contract selves: “What attracted me was the geographic scope as well as the private equity and finance focus, plus it has such a welcoming and caring vibe,” trilled one, while others praised the London office's “dynamic, start-up environment. The smaller cohort means you're not just one of 50. It's an exciting prospect to join a firm that's such a big established name in the US, but already taking big chunks out of the market from other firms over here. The rapid growth and success of the London office was a big attraction for me, and that's not stopped since I joined.” The whopping qualification salary (£115,000) can't hurt either.
The first seat is chosen for newcomers by the firm after third and fourth-seaters claim their top picks. After that, trainees select preferences “about a month before moving on to the next seat.” Trainees usually complete a stint in either banking & finance or private equity. A finance-oriented seat in Hong Kong is available, and this year one of the trainees jetted off for a secondment in the Big Apple.
Lasso the work you want
Over in banking, the team handles “cutting edge kinda work. It's not like the magic circle where they work for HSBC or RBS. Our clients tends to identify more niche investments in the banking scene, and so we work on interesting deals.” Trainees take on “classic tasks like running the closing checklist, due diligence and working on security agreements and other ancillary documents. It's a great experience to draft so soon. They give you as much responsibility as you want – if you're keen to do more there's always more to do. You can work directly with partners and they might get you involved in the credit agreements, rather than just stuff like running checklists.”
For the dutiful trainee, a private equity seat involves “due diligence, bibling, reading contracts and helping to paraphrase specific clauses. It's good to get exposure across teams – I worked with the IP and tax departments on any issues that raised red flags.” Recently Ropes folk have advised Texas-based investment group Cathexis on a hostile takeover of ISG, worth £85 million. Solicitors also acted for venture capital company 3i in its £159 million acquisition of a majority stake in Audley Travel from Equistone Partners Europe. Trainees might also sample the process of setting up funds, which entails “a lot of drafting and marking up documents like the LPA and subscription documents which detail how individual investors are admitted to the fund.”
"You come up against challenges different to a standard US or UK deal.”
Those who'd opted for a seat in Ropes' private investment funds team found themselves busy advising on formation issues for a variety of UK, US and European funds. Key clients here include Nordic Capital, Bain Capital Credit and CVC Credit Partners. One of our interviewees had spent the majority of their time “setting up a credit fund for a very large sponsor, which involved a lot of marking up documents and drafting the likes of the subscription document (which signs up individual investors) and the limited partnership agreement (which basically governs the formation of the fund).” Others got stuck with a bit of bibling as deals came to a close, but sources highlighted that it's an interesting seat that offers the opportunity to run workshops for clients, “where you give them the background on fund formation and go over current considerations like Brexit and what not.”
Several sources had stopped off in a seat mysteriously entitled 'special situations.' While this might sound like a euphemism for an episode of incontinence, it's actually “a crossover between restructuring and insolvency work with more niche corporate work.” The team takes on two trainees, with one person in restructuring and one in corporate. Of the latter, a source said that “the deals and investments we work on aren't the normal bread and butter, it's more niche, unique work. I spent time acting for a big investment bank investing in a fast food chain in China and Turkey. You come up against challenges and hurdles different to a standard US or UK deal.” This being Ropes, “all the deals are very international regardless of what team you're in,” and special situations is not different. Trainees spent their hours “learning the ins and outs of finance documents, which was a great experience.” On the restructuring side, novices “draft a lot of legal opinions and look at the restructuring support agreements and share purchase agreements. I was able to go to court a couple of weeks ago for a case where a note trustee is being sued over transaction documents and exceeding powers.”
A great Alibi
As a top American firm, Ropes & Gray offers top-tier compensation, but trainees emphasised that they weren't existing in a living hell of sleep deprivation and deadlines. “For those people who want a 9.30 to 5.30 job, working in the City as a lawyer isn't going to be for them, but at same time there's a bit of myth about US law firms working you harder than others. I have loads of friends at other amazing places like Hogan or the magic circle firms, and if a partner is busy you'll be working hard and there can be some late nights, but people shouldn't be put off by US law firms.” How late is late? While some trainees said the latest they'd stayed was 11pm or even 2am (“not too bad”), others told us that “in a busy period it's not unheard of to do all-nighters, but when it's quiet you can make most of it, go home at 4pm and enjoy the weekends. It just depends on the workflow.” The latter was an oft-repeated adage amongst interviewees. “It's honestly so dependent on what's going on in a particular team. Sometimes you can get off at 6.30pm or 7pm. The firm doesn't want you burning the midnight oil if it's not necessary.” Overall, a 12-hour day “isn't uncommon.”
"So far we've had a Japanese night, a wine tasting and a casino night to raise money for charity.”
Asked about the culture, an interviewee declared that “it doesn't feel very cut-throat or corporate. The firm looks for people who wants to help others rather than someone who's eager to be competitive and beat everyone.” Another suggested that “it's quite a young office, which gives it a dynamic feel. There's a sense that if you want to chat in someone's office you can because people are generally very approachable, although there's inevitably a mix of characters, and some are more friendly than others. I've always found it be very relaxed, with the proviso that if you don't work hard you're not the right fit.”
The social calendar has recently been reinvigorated with the introduction of firm-wide drinks on the last Friday of every month, held in 'Alibi', the office social area. “Each department takes turns to organise it. So far we've had a Japanese night, a wine tasting and a casino night to raise money for charity. It's a nice opportunity for people to have some casual drinks.”
When it comes to qualification, there aren't loads of formal hoops to jump through. In 2017, four out of five qualifiers stayed on.
Ropes' social events include a summer party, the most recent of which was “a big barbecue.”
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How to get a Ropes & Gray training contract
Vacation scheme deadline (2018): 31 January 2018 (opens 26 October 2017)
Training contract deadline (2020): 31 July 2018 (opens 1 February 2018)
Ropes & Gray opened its London office in 2010; the first trainees started very shortly afterwards in 2011. Given that it's a recent arrival in the UK, the firm is continuing to develop an ‘attraction campaign’ to ensure it recruits the very best candidates, head of HR Beverley Sorsby informs us. 2016 marked Ropes & Gray’s first foray into the world of university law fairs, with recruiters pitching up at UCL, Bristol, Durham, Oxford and Cambridge.
Training contract applications and requirements
Applicants will need at least AAB at A level and have either gained or be on track for a 2:1 degree. The firm also welcomes applications from those turning to the law as a second career.
Ropes & Gray receives over 250 direct applications for its training contracts every year. At the moment, around seven new trainees are sought during each recruitment round. Given the smaller number of applications received (in comparison to larger City outfits), Sorsby tells us that the firm's hiring staff can “read every application to analyse its true merit.”
So what will recruiters be looking out for on the form? Previous work experience in other City firms is a plus, in that it enables candidates to demonstrate an understanding of the culture they're about to enter. However, don't panic if you can't secure that kind of experience: focus instead on nabbing appropriate opportunities that will prove your dedication to a career in law. For example, Sorsby tells us that pro bono experience gets a big thumbs-up, so explore what your university or law school can offer on that front. Commercial awareness is another important area, and candidates will be asked to comment on the significance of a current hot topic in their initial application. “Lawyers have to provide commercial solutions,” says Sorsby, “so showing that you really understand and have an interest in the commercial world is incredibly important.”Check out our features on legal industry trends and news to prepare.
After filling in the online application form, the most promising candidates complete a video interview. If they ace this, around 12 are then invited to the firm for an assessment day.
Interviews and assessments
Candidates can also expect be asked a commercial-based question during their face-to-face interview. Sorsby assures us that this requires little to no prior legal knowledge, and sets out to test a candidate's general business knowledge and awareness of current global economic issues. Interviewees can also expect to be asked 'Why Ropes & Gray?' “This is where some applicants fall down,” Sorsby points out. “When applying, they may not have considered Ropes & Gray enough, so in the interview we'll probe and challenge our candidates on their reasons for applying to the firm.”
Given the emphasis on growth, interviewers will also assess how entrepreneurial each candidate is. Those who have “a natural sense of business development” will especially impress. Before the interview day arrives, think of some worthy examples that demonstrate your entrepreneurial flare: you might have started your own mini-venture at university; organised a fund-raising activity for a local charity; or put in place a profitable new system during your summer job. Anything that shows you're proactive, creative and can obtain good results should go down well. Interviewees are also expected to complete a written assessment on the day.
Ropes & Gray runs a single vacation scheme which is often used as a stepping stone to a training contract, but not exclusively so. In 2017 Ropes & Gray received 334 applications for its two-week-vac scheme. There are just eight places available on the scheme and the application process is identical to that of the training contract.
Unusually, Ropes & Gray's vac schemers all sit together in an open-plan area, but they do get exposure to as many practice areas as possible. They're assigned a trainee buddy and a junior associate to help guide them through the scheme, but candidates are encouraged to go and speak to people at all levels to get the most out of their time at the firm. Conducting company searches, drafting documents and completing negotiation exercises are just some of the tasks vac schemers can expect to undertake.
During the scheme, students are assessed via a presentation, an interview and a written assessment. Those who really impress are likely to be offered a training contract – around 55% of Ropes & Gray's trainees are recruited off the back of the vac scheme. On the social side there are nights out with the current crop of trainees, who also organise an internal networking event for all vac schemers. Vac schemers are paid £350 a week to cover expenses.
Ropes & Gray
60 Ludgate Hill,
- Partners 30
- Associates 88
- Total trainees 15
- UK offices London
- Overseas offices 10
- Graduate recruiter: Katherine McAteer, [email protected], 020 3201 1607 Training partner: Rohan Massey, [email protected]
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 5-7
- Applications pa: 567
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1
- Minimum A levels: AAB
- Vacation scheme places pa: 16
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: 1 February 2018
- Training contract deadline, 2020 start: 31 July 2018
- Vacation scheme applications open: 26 October 2017
- Vacation scheme 2018 deadline: 31 January 2018
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £44,000
- Second-year salary: £48,000
- Post-qualification salary: £115,000
- Holiday entitlement: 25 days
- LPC fees: Yes
- GDL fees: Yes
- Maintenance grant pa: £8,000
- International and regional
- Overseas seats: Hong Kong office
- Client secondments: These are available on hoc basis at the client’s request
Since opening the office in January 2010, we have assembled a fully integrated international team of lawyers – from 27 countries and speaking more than 40 languages – that provides clients with a full service of transatlantic law capabilities coupled with an in-depth understanding of the markets in the UK, Europe and Asia. The team additionally has strong and long-standing relationships with leading local firms across the EMEA region.
Main areas of work
We have fully established teams specialising in special situations, including both restructuring and equity, a real estate team advising investors and lenders on structuring and executing complex domestic and international transactions, and a leading private investment funds team.
Other key practice areas include antitrust/competition, dispute resolution, financial crime, intellectual property, investment management, privacy and data security and tax.
Trainees who join us receive the best training available. This is reflected in the standard of both the in-house ‘Trainee Training Programme’ and the practical training overseen by a supervisor. The small number of trainees we take on means we’re genuinely able to offer early responsibility and challenging work. This is balanced by an open door policy ensuring trainees have the support to build a successful career.
During the two-week scheme you will complete client work at trainee level, and be mentored and supported by your supervisor and trainee ‘buddy’. You can expect to attend workshops, training sessions and visits to barristers’ chambers and the Royal Courts of Justice. You will also have the opportunity to interact with our employees at social networking events. You will be paid £350 per week.