This New York native has “carved out a reputation for private equity and finance work” that rivals the City's home-grown elite.
Stars (and stripes) in their eyes
Ask the average Joe on the street to explain private equity and chances are they'll be pretty flummoxed. But step into Weil's London office and you'll soon twig that it isn't just the average Joe on the street – you'll also get an answer to every private equity question you'd care to ask. Weil is a hefty international legal brand, and while the firm's trainees may be older than the office itself, they're confident it can hold its own in the City's crowded legal market. “Weil is very balanced in terms of department strength. Our private equity work is market-leading and our banking department is growing constantly, but we also have a strong restructuring practice which helps when the going gets tough economically.” In the US the firm is perhaps best known for its bankruptcy work, cleaning up giant financial disasters like Lehman Brothers.
A look at the office's Chambers UK rankings tells a similar story: it sits comfortably at the top alongside two seasoned magic circlers for its private equity buyouts know-how, while its banking and finance work for lenders and sponsors is especially well regarded too. Some savvy lateral hires – including a real estate finance partner from Baker McKenzie and Herbert Smith Freehill's former head of private equity – are set to bolster these areas further in the months ahead. A healthy set of firm-wide financials also bode well for Weil's future in the capital: global revenue shot up by an impressive 9% to $1.27 billion.
"Our private equity work is market-leading."
A billion-busting revenue means that Weil can certainly compete with its US rivals in the City when it comes to dishing out jaw-dropping salaries. “It would be silly to say that the money isn't a big draw,” admitted one trainee, referencing the firm's mouth-watering £115,000 NQ pay packet. Of course, trainees and NQs alike are paid for their time; sources insisted that “the hours aren't worse than those at the major British firms,” but it would be remiss of us not to point out that the hours at these firms are still tough. The existence of sleeping pods at Weil also suggests that its lawyers aren't exactly clocking off at five.
Money wasn't the only thing on our sources' minds before they signed the dotted line at Weil. The chance to further explore an interest in the high-flying world of finance was often on the list, as was the opportunity to do so in a more modestly-sized trainee intake (27 in total at the time of our calls). Trainees' backgrounds ranged from those who'd been dead-set on joining Weil after being “a brand ambassador for the firm at uni,” to those who came “late to the law” after sampling life at a well known publisher. Their paths typically converged at ULaw Moorgate for the LPC, “which was great as we got a chance to get to know each other well beforehand.”
Trainees are required to complete one seat in corporate and one in either banking and finance or structured finance, as well as a contentious seat (in litigation; IP; employment and pensions; or business, finance and restructuring) or a short external litigation course. First-seaters are told which department they'll join, but for subsequent seats trainees list their top three preferences and explain “why you're a good candidate for each one.” Despite many bagging one of these choices every time, sources felt the process “could be less opaque: it's not unfair, but they could be clearer on why people have been allocated the seats that they've been given.”
Stay a Weil
Corporate is Weil London's largest department. It handles a whole host of mergers, takeovers, disposals and joint ventures in an equally broad range of sectors, including financial services, energy and telecommunications. “It's very unlikely that you'll see any work that's purely domestic,” trainees here told us. The department's recently seen a spike in the number of Asian buyers seeking to snap up UK targets in light of the weakening pound: one such deal saw the team represent investment holding company Singapore Exchange during its £78 million takeover of the Baltic Exchange – London's hotspot for global maritime trade. Other highlights include advising US conglomerate General Electric as it sold off some of its financial services platforms to Wells Fargo for $30 billion; and collaborating with colleagues in France as mobile whiz Orange bought a telecoms business for €1.2 billion, increasing its coverage in Africa.
Sources found the culture “more hierarchical and formal” here than in other departments: “Expectations are higher and it's generally much more tense.” Trainees typically handle “the process management and due diligence tasks, but also draft parts of agreements, review department reports and compile supporting documentation like board minutes.” Client contact is limited, as junior lawyers “don't tend to be copied into conversations as much – information is more trickle down.” Given the size and scope of the deals, “you're consistently busy and expected to work weekends when required.” The peaks and troughs of transactional work also mean that days can end any time between 7pm and 2am.
Weil's smaller IP department often plays a supporting role during these deals, so its trainees spend some of their time “helping with a lot of due diligence based on IP portfolios.” Also on offer is “quite a lot of standalone advisory work, which is more intellectually stimulating.” There's also a lot more client contact to look forward to: “I got to help out with client presentations and could email clients at my own discretion to build up relationships.” These clients include many a recognisable name, like eBay, Adobe, Yahoo! and Facebook.
“You're given the first stab at finding a solution.”
The banking and finance department – the office's second largest – is “incredibly popular to qualify into,” with interviewees gushing: “It's a young team; the partners are incredibly dynamic and seem genuinely interested in trainee development.” The work “starts out low-key, but by the end I was running checklists and managing correspondence with opposing counsel, so there's a huge amount of responsibility available.” The department balances its work between sponsor clients – like Montagu Private Equity and TowerBrook Capital – and lenders like HSBC, JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs.Leveraged finance is a particular strength, with the team able to advise on loans governed by either English or New York law; a recent highlight involved advising TowerBrook on the financing arrangements for its €410 million acquisition of a French information services provider. As with corporate, working hours are “very up and down,” ranging from post-midnight slogs to cushy 5.30pm finishes.
BFR (business finance and restructuring) is smaller than the core corporate and finance teams, with 19 lawyers filling its ranks. It is, however, a “super busy” group that has worked with Lehman Brothers, PwC and private equity giant KKR.A seat here comes with a “very interesting mix” of litigious and advisory work. “The highlight here is the variety: you can go from researching failing companies to getting involved in consultations to going to court and listening to the barristers.” Over in private funds the work can span fund formations, secondary fundraisings and regulatory matters, especially with regards to real estate and infrastructure investments. Sources found “the concepts not too hard to understand – as a second-year trainee you're able to negotiate a side-feature of the main deal.” On the regulatory side the work is more advisory, with trainees “keeping clients up-to-date on requirements; putting together applications to the regulator; and liaising with local counsel a lot.”
Trainees in Weil's litigation department got to see “lots of interesting cases, ranging from a billion-pound fraud in South East Asia to a huge litigation against HMRC.” Developing its contentious tax remit has been a particular focus of late, and the case our source was referring to was the £1.25 billion VAT spat between Littlewoods and HMRC – it hit the Supreme Court in the summer of 2017.Other strengths include regulatory and structured finance disputes. A cross-border scope is not unheard of here either: the team has been working with Weil's US and Hong Kong offices to assist client Jinpeng (a Chinese company) with multiple disputes related to its investment in luxury hotel group Aman Resorts. Top of the list for trainees is legal research: “You're given the first stab at finding a solution to the problem, and if it's what associates expect they'll go along with it. It's sometimes frustrating if you don't know what you're looking for, but rewarding to have an important role.” Days here tend to be more stable, with one elated source telling us that they “finished by 6pm every day!”
“It's difficult technically and very demanding.”
Weil's structured finance team is “focused primarily on CLO [collateralised loan obligation] work.” One source told us they'd spent most of their time helping to “represent lenders for big securitisation facilities based on non-performing loans.” Say what now? No wonder trainees pegged this as “the most challenging seat: it's difficult technically and very demanding, as there are so many deals going on. You're using your brain all the time.” Interviewees had deployed their grey matter on “the running of timetables and schedules, overseeing condition precedent checklists and reviewing documents.” Despite labelling the seat “a consistent slog,” sources ultimately found it rewarding: “It's probably the seat where I learned the most. You need to develop a lot of background knowledge, but the help provided is fantastic.”
Worth Your Weil
In either their third or fourth seat trainees can go overseas for a sojourn to Hong Kong, Paris (if you're a French speaker) or the New York HQ. The latter is particularly popular: housed in the “much larger” General Motors Building on Fifth Avenue, trainees here got to the heart of the action on some private funds work. The application process for a spell abroad is nigh identical to that for a normal seat, but candidates must have already sat in the department which they'll be with abroad, and if multiple people want to go (as is likely) they may have to submit a business case too.
The 21-year-old London office on Fetter Lane houses a “generally nice environment that's not too hostile or corporate. Everything's very slick and modern and the staff are always on hand to help.” Foodies will be excited to learn that “the canteen has improved drastically” of late, with “five options available at every lunch and dinner.” For the stressed, the firm has a support helpline and offers in-house meditation classes. On-site 'sleeping pods' also provide a place to crash when late nights are required. Office-wide events include an annual charity quiz that involves karaoke and fancy dress (“it's taken very seriously”) but overall “there's not a massive culture of meeting up all the time.”
“It's like running your own deal.”
US firms' emphasis on pro bono work is also evident here: “There's an expectation that each lawyer will spend about 50 hours a year doing it, and there are lots of interesting things going on most of the time.” For trainees, this could mean helping to “incorporate charities, attending the Royal Courts of Justice advice bureau, and – via the real estate department – doing lease work for the disability charity Scope.” Our sources were thrilled to get involved as “people aren't as precious about you speaking to pro bono clients. Trainees are often doing the leg work; it's like running your own deal.”
Appraisals come around every three months, though “you may also get ongoing feedback throughout, depending on who your supervisor is.” Trainees found that “the mid-seat review is more about the steps you can take to improve, while the end-of-seat is more backwards-looking. I found them both really useful and supervisors put a lot of effort into them.” As with seat allocation the qualification process was also deemed “a bit opaque.” Trainees get an idea from departments as to whether there'll be a slot for them, but some suggested that “it would be useful for teams to formally tell us how many NQ spaces there are.” On the plus side, “the firm likes to keep as many trainees as possible, so they do try to create a space for you.” NQ retention has been high in the past few years. However, in 2017 the firm kept on just five of ten qualifiers.
“You do have to be quite resilient to work here,” sources emphasised. “That doesn't necessarily differentiate us from other top firms in the City, but you do have to be willing to put a shift in and stick around when the going gets tough – at interview they'll be trying to gauge how personable you might be at 2am in the midst of some mad deal.”
How to get a Weil training contract
Vacation scheme deadline (2018): 13 January 2018 (open 1 October 2017)
Training contract deadline (2020): 31 July 2018 (open 1 January 2018)
Applications and interviews
Weil’s graduate recruitment team attends law fairs at universities across the UK, including: Bristol, Cambridge, Durham, Exeter, King’s, LSE, Nottingham, Oxford, Queen Mary, UCL and Warwick. They also organise various skills sessions, workshops, partner-led presentations and insight days throughout the year – check Weil's events calendar for details.
Students interested in a training contract with Weil can apply for a vacation scheme or directly for a training contract.
Applications for both vacation scheme and training contract positions are made via an online process. All applications are reviewed by Weil’s graduate recruitment team and a partner. The best of the bunch progress to the next stage, where candidates undertake a multiple choice critical reasoning test. Applicants that pass the test are then invited to submit an online video interview, which is reviewed by a partner.
Those that impress are offered a first-round in-person interview with a partner and an associate, and are then asked to complete a written exercise. This stage is geared toward finding out more about a candidate's background, motivations and career aspirations, but recruiters will also be assessing technical and commercial knowledge. Graduate recruitment and development manager Lisa Powell tells us successful candidates are the ones who demonstrate “an understanding of our practice areas thoroughly enough that they can hold a conversation about them” and, of course, “a keen interest in Weil.” She advises candidates to “put some thought into our business and how it differentiates itself from competitor firms.”
“It’s formal in as much as any interview is,” Powell continues, “but we hope candidates feel at ease when they meet partners. It’s challenging, but we’re not looking to catch anyone out. It should be enjoyable.” Successful applicants are then made vacation scheme offers. For candidates applying directly for a training contract, there is a second-round interview with two partners before offers are made.
Weil runs three two-week vacation schemes: one in the spring and two in the summer. There are 30 places available across all three. Students spend each week in a different practice area and are required to complete assessments during the programme, including a group negotiation exercise and a group pitch presentation.
According to Lisa Powell, “those who perform really well are the ones able to juggle different tasks – people who can balance the preparation necessary for their assessments with the work they’ve been asked to undertake for their supervisor. These are the skills they need as a trainee at Weil.” She adds that the vacation scheme is not only a chance to test such skills but “to assess a candidate’s enthusiasm and attitude towards their work.”
'Social darts' (like darts, but more fun), ping-pong tournaments and dinner at the swish Kensington Roof Gardens have featured in previous vacation schemes. Participants are also invited to informal drinks with the graduate recruitment team and trainees on their last day. The vac scheme also culminates in an interview with a few partners, and if students impress at this stage they'll be offered a training contract.
Private equity explained
Weil, Gotshal & Manges (London) LLP
110 Fetter Lane,
- Partners 33
- Associates Over 100
- Totaltrainees 26
- UKoffices 1
- Overseasoffices 17
- Contact Graduate recruiters: Lisa Powell, Rebecca Player
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: Up to 15
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1
- Minimum UCAS points or A levels: AAB (or equivalent)
- Vacation scheme places pa: Up to 30
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: 1 January 2018
- Training contract deadline, 2020 start: 31 July 2018
- Vacation scheme applications open: 1 October 2017
- Vacation scheme 2018 deadline: 13 January 2018
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £46,000
- Second-year salary: £50,000
- Post-qualification salary: £115,000
- Holiday entitlement 25 days
- LPC fees: Yes
- GDL fees: Yes
- Maintenance grant pa: £8,000
Established in 1996, Weil’s London office is the largest of its European offices and the hub of its European practice. The office is a leading player in the UK legal market and is consistently regarded as one of the most successful London offices of a US-based law firm. The firm supports a varied client base of European, US and global private equity houses, corporates and financial institutions on domestic and cross-border matters.
Weil’s strategy is focused on long-term investment in recruiting and retaining exceptional talent at all levels. The firm’s people celebrate diversity and inclusion, and its award-winning pro bono programme is deeply ingrained in the firm’s culture.
Main areas of work
The majority of the firm’s work involves multidisciplinary teams across the specialist fields of tax, competition, IP, IT and data privacy, employment, management incentives, real estate, corporate governance and compliance, leveraging the expertise of its fullservice capabilities for its clients.
You will be paid £400 per week.