There's no room for weak links in this magic circle firm's sturdy chain of international practices.
All that glitters
Linklaters' golden reputation makes it a top training contract destination in the City. Trainees here get to work at the tippity-top of the international corporate, banking and capital market scenes, getting to grips with some multi-carat clients and topping it off with watercooler chats with lions like William Hague, who the firm recently hired to head up its shiny new international advisory group. Linklaters is unique among the magic circle for winning top rankings from Chambers UK in five key corporate and finance areas: corporate M&A, banking and finance, capital markets, restructuring and insolvency, and banking litigation. The London-headquartered firm nabs several dozen other rankings besides, quite a few of which are top-tier ones, so we suggest you check out its full Chambers UK listing for a comprehensive view of its might. As one of its 225 trainees told us: “I came here because the firm specialises in both finance and corporate work – I didn't want to rule anything out. Plus, the people here are really impressive. You're learning from the best."
That said, life at the top is no cakewalk. It's worth heeding the following advice from one of our trainee sources before proceeding: “You have to be sure this is what you want to do. It's not a walk in the park – deals are large and difficult, and the hours are tough. But if you have the passion, you'll have a great two years.” Something to note is that by 'large', we're talking the biggest out there: matters here regularly stretch into the billions and more often than not involve cross-border elements and globally known names, like Glencore, Vodafone and BP. Dealing with headline-hitting deals – like Dixons' £4 billion merger with Carphone Warehouse – is not uncommon.
Links has 29 offices around the world and no plans to stop there. The firm's been making a big push in Asia in recent years: in 2013 it opened a Seoul branch, and rumours were aflutter in 2014 that it was shopping around for a new alliance in China, where it already has offices in Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong. In 2015 Links began offering training contracts to native Mandarin speakers who want to work in China upon qualification; the programme sees them spend two seats in London and two in China. Bar the qualifying into another country part, this isn't a huge leap from the normal training contract, which sees around two-thirds of trainees spend a seat abroad, often in Asia (Hong Kong, Singapore and Tokyo have proven particularly popular destinations in recent years).
The aim of Links' expansion efforts is clear: "Linklaters is all about being the leading global law firm. They're always ramming that phrase down our throats to get us on brand.” One insider told us: “One of the things I like best about the firm is that it's very young in spirit. It's always looking for ways to outstrip its competitors and to use all the resources in its reach to get to the top.” This includes tweaks to the lockstep remuneration system in order to attract and keep hold of high-rolling partners.
That's the way the cookie crumbles
Linklaters offers a formidable array of seat options to trainees. In fact, it has to run "a law fair of sorts" just to broadcast all of them: "They have stalls from various departments, and representatives are on hand to explain what work that team does." Trainees get to submit four options for their first seat, then midway through that seat they submit six preferences for the second and third seat. The fourth seat is left unplanned to allow more flexibility, with trainees often going on secondment or abroad. There are around 40 overseas seats on offer, as well as a handful of corporate in-house gigs.
Most trainees do a stint in Linklaters' substantial corporate team, which is home to a few hundred lawyers and divvies its work between sector-based groups like insurance, financial services and energy. The group is especially big in public and private M&A, and handles a not inconsiderable number of private equity transactions and IPOs too. Big names – including a third of the FTSE 100 – are splashed across the client roster. Lawyers here recently oversaw Balfour Beatty's proposed £3 billion hook-up with fellow construction company Carillion and advised Greene King on its £774 million acquisition of rival pub-owners Spirit. The scale of such deals means “quite a lot of due diligence" for trainees, not that our sources minded: "Working with such big names and brands on super-confidential deals is fun, even if the tasks themselves are boring.”
The banking and finance group services financial institutions like J.P. Morgan and Lloyds as well as corporations like Glencore and private equity giants like Carlyle. The team recently represented a group of banks in a multibillion-pound loan to BSkyB, destined to fund its takeover of three European pay TV businesses. Other work highlights of late include acting for Vodafone in a £2.7 billion revolving credit facility, and helping Turkish food manufacturer Yildiz finance its £2.1 billion acquisition of United Biscuits, owner of Jacob's and McVitie's. The scope of the group is such that it covers corporate, trade and asset finance, as well as restructuring, insolvency and regulatory matters. "You can work across the board as a trainee or stick to one group if you prefer." One interviewee with experience on the corporate finance side spoke of "a really high deal turnover, which is great – you get to see a lot of deals from beginning to end." Much like corporate, "there's a lot of admin involved in banking, like running CP checklists or handling due diligence for portfolio sales. Quite often you're looking at documents in the data room and filling in a report on them." It's not all paper-pushing, though: "I got to draft a variety of corporate documents and by the end of my seat was running an entire alliance document," reported one trainee, while others chimed in to report the seat "is a good one for client contact."
Weird and wonderful
The capital markets practice – one of the best in the City for debt, equity, structured finance and securitisation – shares a fair few clients with the banking and finance group, including J.P. Morgan and Barclays, who lawyers recently advised (along with Goldman Sachs and UBS) on a $2.5 billion shares offering by Fiat Chrysler ahead of its plans to spin off Ferrari as a separate business. There are plenty of standalone clients too: the firm was recently called upon to assist the Treasury as the UK became the first country outside the Islamic world to issue a sukuk (a kind of Sharia-compliant bond). Trainees here told of grappling with "a really exciting variety of matters," from loan portfolio sales to note issues and securitisations. “The transactions are complex and can be really difficult to understand, but you get up to speed very quickly," said one. "You have to! Within eight weeks I'd worked on 11 different matters. Luckily, there are a lot of helpful internal resources to guide you through tasks step by step." Our interviewees flagged the seat as a good one for responsibility. "I drafted some form documents on my own," reported one, while another told of "acting as the main point of contact with a client. I was holding weekly conference calls to talk them through the details of the transaction. It was daunting but exciting!”
Among Linklaters' many specialist groups are energy, life sciences and infrastructure. This last team advises on the financing, design, construction and business securitisations aspects of infrastructure deals like the forthcoming Thames Tideway, a major sewer overhaul in London that constitutes the UK's second biggest infrastructure project ever. At the time of our calls, lawyers were busy assisting Thames Water with the details of the project, which will involve digging out 30 kilometres of tunnels under London's streets at the whopping cost of £4.1 billion. Projects aren't just UK-centric, though: “You encounter all sorts of weird and interesting laws when you're working on an international deal. You have to rethink things you thought were standard, which is what Linklaters is all about.” We heard that “deals here operated on a longer timeline than in corporate or banking, so there's not the same level of pressure to get through things as quickly.”
That said, trainees are still expected to put in some tough hours to keep things running at full speed. “There's no two ways about it: the hours are long, no matter what seat you're in. It takes some getting used to, and you need stamina to get through them." One exhausted interviewee had recently come off the back of “a solid week of staying until 3am and going back in at 7am the next morning. I had to drink a lot of coffee! Luckily, I got three days off in lieu after.” Others spoke of "relentless midnight finishes," while others still mentioned "constant ups and downs – one day you're leaving in time to go to the gym; others you find yourself stuck here until 4am." On the whole, sources agreed "it can be hard, but it's not all-consuming" and took solace in the thought that "at least working weekends is pretty unusual." We heard the sleeping pods "are actually quite pleasant. They make it up like a hotel room – Travelodge, mind – with a bathrobe, a toothbrush and an en suite bathroom. It makes a lot of sense to stay there if you live far away."
A proper cup of coffee
Our sources were keen to impress upon us that Linklaters is “very straight-shooting in terms of quality – they don't really beat around the bush if you've done bad work on an exercise.” As one explained: “The prestige of the firm is such that you're expected to adhere to a super-high level of excellence. Even the most minor of letters needs to be done to perfection; senior people will catch every misplaced comma.” While our interviewees didn't find these expectations particularly distressing – "people are perfectly friendly when they give you corrections" – they did notice a push to make them slightly more palatable. “Partners are being encouraged to be more accommodating when they give us work and to ask what our plans are first.” They went on to tell us about a new scheme in some teams that encourages senior members of the firm to work from home one day a week: “Some associates will do so almost religiously. That push for flexibility is something that's been very consciously top-driven.” This latter change is part of Linklaters' recent drive to increase diversity. The firm was the first magic circle firm to announce gender diversity targets and is aiming for a 30% female management by 2018. “There are more and more conversations about diversity, both gender and ethnic, and it's starting to bear fruit, on the trainee side at least.”
Linklaters' HQ is on Silk Street, surrounded by much maligned Brutalist complex the Barbican. While “the interior could do with sprucing up,” it offers all the perks of a big magic circle operation, including a 24-hour canteen, a GP surgery, a gym and “a little shop where you can buy pretty much anything you can think of, from ties to nice Jo Malone stuff to give your Mum if you've forgotten her birthday.” Our sources went particularly wild for “the really amazing smoothie blitz bar, which has all the ingredients you read about in magazines – chia seeds, kale.” Add the sleeping pods into the mix, “and it's a self-contained universe! You can easily fall into the trap of never leaving.” Other, less tangible but still appreciated, benefits include free language lessons, health and wellbeing months, sports teams, and even paid entrance fees for activities like trail runs. Linklaters is alone in offering end-of-seat bonuses to trainees, subject to their meeting an hours target. "It gives us the best compensation of trainees at any City firm,” a source said contentedly. Our interviewees had similarly pleased views on the firm's qualification process, telling us “most groups are good at making it known early on if they're interested in having you back well in advance." In 2015 the firm kept on 95 of its 109 qualifiers.
You've got to strive to thrive at Linklaters, but the firm has its fun side, too: drinks trolleys, karaoke nights, and a lavish Christmas party are just a few of the social rewards. "When we started, we were given a presentation about how we'd all become friends during our training contract, and we were like 'Haha, yeah right,' but actually six months down the line I noticed that my class really is close," reported a trainee. "They give us lots of opportunities to form bonds, and as a result I've got people I go to the theatre with, people I go for drinks with. Any day of the week you can walk into the cafeteria and see lots of us hanging out, having lunch together."
Shrinking violets, beware: “People here are high achievers, and they're proactive about their careers. You can't just be a wallflower; you're expected to volunteer for work.”
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How to get a Linklaters training contract
Vacation scheme deadline: 9 November 2015 (winter: grads, postgrads and final-year undergrads); 4 January 2016 (summer: penultimate-year undergrads)
Training contract deadline: 4 January 2016 (grads, postgrads and final-year undergrads); 31 July 2016 (penultimate-year law grads, final-year students, postgrads and grads)
Linklaters looks at a wide range of universities, so don't be deterred from applying if you didn't go to one of the more obvious ones. Alongside visits to many UK universities, recruiters are also sent to both India and Australia to interview overseas candidates. A law degree has given candidates a slight up in years past: today the proportion of law to non-law graduates is 60:40.
The application form for a vac scheme is the same as the one for the training contract. Be sure to check your form for any silly errors and don’t just regurgitate the firm’s own marketing material: “We wrote it, and we will recognise it!” recruitment sources stress. Extracurricular activities, work experience and languages (especially those spoken in the BRIC countries) are all particularly valued in applicants.
If recruiters like the look of your application form, you'll be invited to complete an online Watson Glaser critical thinking test. You'll be doing yourself a favour by having a stab at the practice test, which can be found on Linklaters' grad recruitment website.
Assessments and interviews
Those who ace the online test – training contract and vac scheme applicants alike – attend one of several assessment days held each year. The day involves a written version of the critical thinking test, a work simulation exercise and two interviews. The work simulation exercise sees candidates reply to a series of emails using multiple choice answers, before drafting a written response to one.
The first interview takes place with HR and is designed to test “key competencies like teamwork, leadership, motivation, desire for commercial law and the ability to organise,” say recruiters. “We try to gauge applicants’ communication skills and their commitment to both commercial law and Linklaters in particular.”
Then there's an interview with a partner and managing associate, which is focused on business and the law. It involves a discussion of the written exercise from the work simulation, plus questions testing commercial awareness. “In recent years questions have been on current affairs like the takeover of Cadbury by Kraft, the Eurozone crisis, the phone-hacking scandal and so on,” we're told.
During the assessment day, candidates get a chance to tour the building and have lunch with the current trainees – a good chance to ask questions and settle any lingering doubts.
From here the firm makes its offers.
The vacation scheme
Around 70% of Linklaters' vac schemers generally go on to train with the firm. The firm runs two summer schemes – these are open to law and non-law students in their penultimate year of study and last four weeks each, with around 60 spots available in total. As of 2016 there will also be a winter scheme, aimed at final-year students, grads and postgrads.
Vac schemers visit two practice groups during their visit and can state preferences for these beforehand. Each attendee works alongside an associate who acts as a formal mentor and provides both guidance and feedback. A buddy from the trainee group stands in as a more informal point of contact.
Over the course of the vac scheme there are presentations on core practice areas, a talk from the managing partner about the firm’s strategy, a video conference with global partners and an advice session on how to conduct yourself at an interview. Vac schemers also participate in a hypothetical client pitch and a negotiation exercise.
Those who complete the scheme are automatically allotted a final interview for the training contract. This takes place with a partner and lasts an hour.
Linklaters in America
We interviewed junior lawyers at Linklaters' New York office for our US sister publication Chambers Associate. Read their thoughts here.
William Hague at Linklaters
After over 25 years as an MP, including a period as Conservative Party leader from 1997 to 2001, William Hague (now elevated to become Lord Hague) recently joined Linklaters as chair of its new 'international advisory committee'. As foreign secretary in the last government, he is pretty well-placed to advise on international matters and his reputation among the firm's high-profile international business clients is also likely to be a big reason for the hire. And along with the expertise comes a welcome dose of publicity for the firm.
Hiring a political hot-shot is not an unprecedented step for a law firm to make. Shadow Lord Chancellor Charlie Falconer is now a partner in the London office of US firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, while former Attorney General Peter Goldsmith is co-managing partner of America's Debevoise & Plimpton's London office. As these examples suggest hiring politically connected individuals into your law firm is something of an American predilection and rather more common across the pond than it is here.
In the US, the so-called 'revolving door' between politics and the legal profession is seen as a point of pride by law firms, who routinely release partners to make their mark on government life in Washington DC. For example Covington & Burling recently rehired Eric Holder after he spent six years as Barack Obama's Attorney General, a position he took up in 2009 after having first worked at... Covington & Burling. In another example of the close ties between law and politics stateside the US arm of global firm Dentons recently hired former Republican Congressman and presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich as a senior advisor. This hire is interesting as it is similar to Linklaters' love-in with Hague – neither Gingrich or Hague are lawyers are their roles are purely advisory ones. Indeed Hague doesn't even appear on the firm's website yet.
So taking on William Hague is a somewhat unusual move for Linklaters and it's not entirely clear what practical role he will play. A firm press release says Hague's appoinment will provide 'an extra gear in making the most of current opportunities' while the group he chairs will be involved in 'governance and strategic direction-setting.' Interestingly the former sounds like an external job – attracting new business through connections to overseas companies and sovereign states – while the latter sounds more internal – advising on sound management and strategy. An article in Legal Business notes that the hire 'borrow[s] from the plc playbook' – the trend for public companies to hire in bigwigs to lend their companies more 'gravitas'. The same article notes as a key reason for Hague's hire 'his ability to position Linklaters in the minds of key influencers'. In other words: a lot of it comes down to prestige. Hiring Hague serves as a marker of Linklaters' international standing and ambitions.
One Silk Street,
- Partners 447
- Associates 2,200
- Trainees 230+*
- * London
- Contact Graduate recruitment
- Email firstname.lastname@example.org
- Website www.linklaters.com/ukgrads
- Method of application Online application form
- Selection procedure Critical thinking test, work simulation exercise and two interviews
- Training contracts p.a. 110
- Applications p.a. 4,500
- Required degree grade 2:1
- Training salary £42,000
- Holiday entitlement 25 days
- % of trainees with a non-law degree p.a. 40%
- Post-qualification salary £68,500 + discretionary performance-related bonus
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