Energy is this Texan titan's forte, so expect to use up lots of it in V&E's London base.
We all know the Brits love tea – nought can't be fixed by putting the kettle on. And while we usually assume that the Americans can't make it properly for toffee, this Houston-founded firm does make a mean brew of Texas tea – oil to you and us. V&E's panache for energy has earned the firm top-notch recognition in Chambers UK, but it also earns reputable nods for its international arbitration, projects and construction work in the sector. Oil work is not the only thing bubbling up from the Lone Star State: “Other firms can be cold and impersonal, but here the culture percolates through Texas. People like each other and they don't take themselves too seriously.” Like many US firms in the capital there's a smaller intake, with just eight trainees filling up the ranks at the time of our calls, plus more moolah on offer come qualification time. The firm clearly has an American feel, but the Houston HQ isn't the be all and end all, as insiders revealed: “We're actually quite independent from Houston; we mostly work on multi-jurisdictional matters because a lot of commercial contracts are governed by English law. So while some people might think that London is a satellite office, we're actually the doorway to the Eastern market, which is really important.”
“We're the doorway to the Eastern market, which is really important.”
The boundaries of the training contract are fairly fluid. “Technically you sit in four different seats, each for six months, but it's quite non-rotational.” That means trainees can carry work through from one 'seat' to the other and see matters through to the end. Most found this to be one of the firm's biggest selling points: “You get to choose what work you want to be more involved in; the general rule is that you spend 50% of your time working for the department you're sat in and the rest of it for other departments to become more well rounded.” However, some did warn “that you can end up with too many plates spinning at once,” so being careful not to take on too much at once is advised.Seats are typically allocated in quite an ad hoc way, but trainee preferences are taken into account.
V&E's energy transactions and projects (ETP) department remains the firm's powerhouse, dealing as it does with a broad range of M&A deals, financings, disputes, regulatory issues and general commercial needs. The department is especially noted for its upstream oil and gas work (the exploration and production part of the industry), and the deals can be whopping in value: the group recently advised Uz-Kor Gas Chemical – an Uzbekistani/South Korean joint venture – on the development and financing of a $4 billion upstream gas and petrochemical complex in Uzbekistan. Other key clients here include Africa Oil Corp., the Republic of Iraq's Ministry of Oil and Australian oil and gas company Woodside. On the finance side trainees help with “a lot ofEPC [engineering, procurement and construction] contracts for power plants.” Contentious work may start “with being roped into bundling, but I ended up doing research for the pleading, drafting the pleading and going to the hearing – you have to start at the bottom, but they do move you up.”
Thelitigation/arbitration team deals almost exclusively with international dispute resolution and commercial litigation related to the energy and construction industries. Trainees told us that “because we work under English law, we're in demand everywhere for arbitration, especially in the Middle East.” The Republic of Iraq's Ministry of Oil recently called upon the firm for representation during a dispute concerning the Iraq-Turkey Pipeline. Other highlights include representing the Panama Canal Authority in arbitrations arising out of the expansion of the canal, and the Chicago Bridge & Iron Company during a $2 billion arbitration over the modernisation of an oil refinery in Colombia. Alongside working with V&E lawyers in New York and Houston, trainees had been sent the occasional email requesting: “Pack your bags – you're going to Paris tomorrow.” Sources explained that “whereas other firms might be worried about sending trainees overseas, as soon as you have the confidence to walk here they tell you to jog and then to sprint.” This slogan translated into daily trainee tasks that included conducting witness interviews; drafting witness statements; having a first stab at pleadings and letters before action; and “getting to grips with all the exhibits – 1,000 in total!”
“Pack your bags – you're going to Paris tomorrow.”
Smaller departments – like M&A/capital markets, finance and employment – have just as much to offer to V&E's burgeoning lawyers. A mix of leveraged finance deals for private equity clients, distressed debt matters and 'special situations' (i.e. tactical manoeuvres, like restructurings, to deploy when a business isn't performing well) can be encountered in a finance seat. “There's usually only one trainee, so various tasks on a deal fall to you.” This meant chipping in “on a closing after only being in the group for two weeks; liaising with local counsel in different jurisdictions; and producing a first cut of all of the facility agreements – they probably looked different when finalised, but at least I got to try!” The energy and telecoms infrastructure sectors are key focuses of the office's M&A efforts, which were recently summoned to assist Norwegian energy supremo Statoil on its $2.5 billion acquisition of a 66% stake in a Brazilian offshore oil field. Here sources “ran the due diligence process, drafted and amended documents like the share purchase agreement and board resolutions, and acted as first point of contact for local counsel.” There's a substantial amount of crossover with the employment team, which pitches in on corporate transactions whenever there are related considerations. “It's a lot more research-based, plus you help with the general review of documents and get to do some pro bono work for employment charities in London.”
The average day ran from 9.30am to 7pm, but (as you might expect from a US firm with bundles of international work) there are “bouts of working around the clock and having all your meals at your desk.” Others added: “The hours are long, but it's unavoidable because we're competing against other US firms and the rest of the London market. But that's the trade off – you might be here until 2am occasionally, but you're working on interesting matters, with a great team and a great salary.”
V&E is comfortably nestled on the 24th floor of one of London's most talked about skyscrapers: the aptly-named 'Walkie Talkie.' “We're very spoilt here – I have the perfect unobstructed view of St Paul's and then there's the Sky Garden of course.” This multi-storey glass bar-cum-greenhouse, sets the scene for some of V&E's big client bashes. V&E employees also get to queue-jump thanks to their swanky “private lift that whisks us up.”
Occasional socials keep things ticking along and are comprised of the usual range of “monthly drinks and snacks.” While it's not the most active social scene, insiders weren't complaining: “When you say the words 'American law firm', it brings to mind images of distant partners and a macho culture. At V&E we are proof that we can do excellent work without the annoyances of ego.” Others agreed, saying “there are no points for showing off, and everyone is pretty warm and friendly.” Trainees and partners alike got the chance to get chummy with their US counterparts when they all jetted off to Houston for the firm's centenary celebrations in April 2017. “It's going to be a big blow out, like a kind of prom/ball,” a trainee told us before the event.
During their third seat appraisal, trainees are “asked where our qualification interests lie.” There aren't “enough trainees to warrant a formal qualification structure,” so what follows is a “series of conversations” throughout the final seat, with the office's training partner liaising with both the qualifiers and the departments they're targeting. “They try to match up supply and demand, but we're small enough to allow for some flexibility and for some assurances to be given.” In 2017 three of four qualifiers were retained.
Overseas seats in Houston, Hong Kong, Dubai or Beijing are available. These sojourns aren't guaranteed (“only one person went away in my year group”) and those who are keen must make a solid business case for the posting.
How to get into Vinson & Elkins
Vacation scheme deadline: 31 January 2018 (opens 1 November 2017)
Training contract deadline: 31 July 2018 (opens 1 November 2017)
The vac scheme route
The best way to score a training contract with Vinson & Elkins is to get onto a summer vacation scheme and treat it as an extended interview. According to training principal Mark Beeley, V&E places a great emphasis on its vac schemes, with something like 75% of all trainees completing one prior to joining the firm.
Landing a placement entails passing an interview (to which approximately 50 candidates are invited) in which applicants can expect to be asked why they're applying to a firm that specialises in energy – specifically what they find exciting or interesting about the sector.
In the end, the firm typically accepts around 25 participants onto its vac schemes. Each week-long scheme aims to confirm that both sides – the firm and the applicants – are happy with the fit. Afterwards, further interviews to decide who gets a training contract are rare: “The firm makes decisions purely based on how the placement went,” Beeley tells us.
Those applying directly for a training contract face two rounds of interviews, which take place between September and October. These are relatively informal and in the past featured either making presentations or providing interviewees with theoretical scenarios and asking them to give basic legal advice.
Vinson & Elkins gets around 400 applications each year for four training contracts. Competition, naturally, is fierce. Grades-wise, you'll need at least a 2:1 and two As and a B at A level to land an interview, but what then? “If you've made it into the interview, you're obviously a good candidate on paper,” says Beeley. “What tends to elevate people is self-confidence without arrogance, as well as the ability to make a connection with people. I will be asking myself, 'If I hired you, would I want to share an office with you?'”
Getting your personality across can also help you stand out. Says Beeley: “Typically we ask candidates: 'When you are not studying, what do you do to have fun?' Some people can struggle with this straightforward question, but it allows us to find out a bit more about a candidate and it gives them a great opportunity to show some personality. A candidate once told us they were a baking enthusiast: this sparked off a discussion about signature bakes and the ever-popular TV baking contest. It doesn’t matter what the candidate is interested in as long as they can talk enthusiastically about it – then they have a chance of capturing our attention.”
Both Beeley and our trainee sources agreed V&E's unstructured training contract lends itself to self-starters. “You need to be willing to take responsibility and have a go, but you also need to use your common sense,” Beeley clarifies, adding that the latter “is actually quite a rare quality, despite the name.”
He goes on to tell us the firm is pretty open when it comes to trainees' university backgrounds – the 2016/17 trainee group contained graduates of Bristol, Durham, Exeter, Oxford, Liverpool and Warwick – and that excellent academics are a must. While legal work experience is generally preferable as it “demonstrates a genuine interest” in the law, the firm also considers those with relevant non-legal experience – so make sure you don't leave that six months you pulled pints in the student union off your CV. “We recognise this can provide you with useful skills, like business planning or people skills, and it shows a willingness to get involved and juggle various competing demands,” explains Beeley, who adds: “Maybe I'm biased – I used to work in bars myself.”
Trends in the energy sector
Vinson & Elkins RLLP
30 Fenchurch Street,
- Partners 15
- Associates 34
- Total trainees 8
- UK offices London
- Overseas offices Austin, Beijing, Dallas, Dubai, Hong Kong, Houston, London, Moscow, New York, Palo Alto, Richmond, Riyadh, San Francisco, Taipei, Tokyo and Washington DC.
- Graduate recruiter: Sarah Stockley, 020 7065 6016, [email protected]
- Training partner: Mark Beeley, mbeeley[email protected]
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 4
- Applications pa: 400
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1
- Minimum UCAS points or A levels: AAB or equivalent
- Vacation scheme places pa: 25 approx
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: 1 November 2017
- Training contract deadline, 2020 start: 31 July 2018
- Vacation scheme applications open: 1 November 2017
- Vacation scheme 2018 deadline: 31 January 2018
- Open day deadline: Open now till 9 February 2018
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £50,000
- Second-year salary: £55,000
- Post-qualification salary: £120,000
- Holiday entitlement: 25 days
- LPC fees: Yes
- GDL fees: Yes
- Maintenance grant pa: £8,000 for GDL and LPC
- International and regional
- Offices with training contracts: London
- Overseas seats: Middle East, Asia, Houston
- No. of seats available abroad pa: 4
Main areas of work
The firm currently offers four training contracts commencing each September. These are not run on a rigid seat system, but instead a trainee will gain wide experience in many different areas, working with a wide variety of associates and partners from across the firm. V&E is proud of the fact it has won several LawCareers.Net awards for the quality of its training with a further seven nominations.
Whilst the trainees are based in London, the firm is currently regularly seconding its trainees to other offices (particularly its offices in the Middle East, Asia and Houston).
Open days and first-year opportunities
University law careers fairs 2017