Working on huge private equity and M&A transactions at Weil “can be very intense,” but trainees embrace the long hours and brain-teasing finance work with gusto.
So-fa so good
Weil's London office is relatively youthful – it celebrates its 20th birthday in 2016. In those two decades Weil's ascent towards the top of London's legal market has been watched with envious sideways glances by established home-grown firms. The firm scores over a dozen Chambers UK rankings (double the number it did ten years ago), including top spots for its banking and finance and private equity practices. These rankings come from international work, sure, but also from major UK clients who you might think would pick a native firm to represent them. For example, Weil recently advised on the £6.2 billion IPO of payment company Worldpay – one of the largest in British financial history – and on the £500 million IPO of furniture favourites DFS.
All this work has been pretty good news for the firm's finances. Apparently, when managing partner Michael Francies recently returned from a meeting with the firm's global partnership in the US with news that London had “had a very successful year,” there was “back-slapping aplenty.” Lawyers have probably started getting sore hands – and indeed backs – from all that slapping by now: Weil's London headcount and revenue have both been slowly rising in the past few years.
While trainees claimed somewhat nebulously that Weil feels “more British than other US firms” (the office has 13 non-UK-qualified lawyers, which is not many), it does offer the holy trinity of US firm training: long hours, finance wizardry and high salaries. We mentioned the firm's financial prowess above and we'll come to hours later, but it's worth stopping to bring up salary right here: Weil recently increased its NQ salary to £100,000 in a race to the top with several other US outfits. While our interviewees did not only have money on their mind –“I like to think that my fellow trainees are not just here for the money” – most agreed that “it doesn't hurt that we are well remunerated.”
It's certainly true that trainees are attracted to a career at Weil by its top-notch private equity and finance work. As one put it, “if you are joining Weil, you are aware that private equity and banking work are going to be part of your training contract and that is part of your ambition.” Most of the firm's intake do the vac scheme first, which is, according to grad recruitment partner Jonathan Wood, “unapologetically rigorous.” Expect to experience “all the good bits and the bad bits” of trainee life.
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. The first seat is assigned at random and after this, one source explained, “you put forward your three top choices before each rotation and make the case as to why you want to join each team.” Trainees pointed out that, as many seats are compulsory, there isn't a huge amount of choice in where you go each time, so “unless you're really keen on corporate or banking, this may not be the best firm for you.”
“Only when I completed it did I realise what a massive task it was.”
Banking and finance is the second biggest department at the firm and has doubled in size in the last five years. There's work for both sponsors – Montagu Private Equity, Lion Capital – and bank lenders like J.P. Morgan, Goldman Sachs, Bank of America Merrill Lynch and Nomura. The department works on complex deals involving multiple players, often from several jurisdictions. For example, lawyers recently advised Bank of Ireland, Commerzbank, HSBC, Germany's IKB and France's Natixis on a €450 million financing for a Dutch portfolio investor to buy a Luxembourg-based holding company which controls a German wheelchair manufacturer. (Still with us?) Trainees told us their work is quite process-driven but that even though some of it “can be menial” they felt they were learning a lot which came in useful later. “As a trainee you take the lead on transaction management, running the conditions precedent process and liaising with local counsel. Because of the work I did, I came to really understand all the steps involved in funding a deal.” Other trainee tasks include proofreading and drafting securities documents, ancillary documents and fee letters. Client exposure is common –“supervisors are not shy about letting you get in touch with clients and I've attended deal signings too.”
Lots of the work is international and trainees frequently work with colleagues abroad. “I worked on two deals for which part of the financing was being run out of New York and part out of London,” a trainee said. We hear that the firm's global head of finance often flies over from New York to keep the team abreast of strategy. The department is also Weil's most sociable, with a packed social calendar including most recently a ski trip and boat party.
Corporate is the firm's largest department. Trainees here can expect to “never be mollycoddled” and need to “step up” to take on major tasks as part of M&A deals and IPOs. “I was responsible for the entire verification process,” one trainee reported. “Only when I completed it did I realise what a massive task that was.” Like their banking brothers-in-arms, lawyers in corporate frequently work with colleagues across the pond (and elsewhere) on huge deals. For example, the firm recently advised UK insurance giant Willis on its $18 billion merger with US risk management company Towers Watson. Lots of deals involve a private equity element – like the acquisition of Oxford-based car fluids manufacturer TI Automotive by Boston private equity firm Bain Capital.
"... the next you're in court listening to the barristers argue a case.”
The private funds team also deals with private equity transactions, for example, advising the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan as a shareholder of credit manager Lowell during the latter's acquisition by private equity firm Permira. “As a trainee you have to get to grips with some of the core documents,” said one interviewee, “and your tasks include document management, bibling and sitting in on calls.” The BFR (banking, finance and restructuring) team is smaller than the core corporate and finance team with just 15 lawyers. It's split between a litigation and an advisory/strategic side. On the litigation side, preparing bundles for court is a standard task, while work in the latter category can mean “keeping an eye on a tracker of struggling companies.” That may not sound like the most exciting of endeavours, but can lead to high drama when “several oil and gas companies all start to go under.” This combination of litigation and advisory work means the seat won praise for its variety – “one day you're doing research to gain a better understanding of the market, the next you're in court listening to the barristers argue a case.”
Those who want the full-on contentious experience can do a seat in litigation. Sources said life here is “not as fast-paced as in the transactional seats,” but there's still plenty to be getting on with including “helping to draft witness statements, organising depositions, attending meetings with counsel, and going to hearings.” There is more menial work too, but stuff like photocopying and making changes to documents is done by “angelic secretaries,” who also help trainees with bundling. “I was given fantastic work and the partners are very intelligent,” one trainee gushed. That intelligence comes in handy on the complicated commercial disputes Weil works on, which include acting for Littlewoods, Shop Direct Group (which Littlewoods is now part of), and media investment company Ingenious in separate disputes with HMRC over tax liabilities.
“People here are happy to work hard and are quite ambitious.”
In either their third or fourth seat trainees can go overseas to New York, Hong Kong or Paris (if you're a French speaker). Jonathan Wood says stints abroad tend to go to those who “have done really well and pretty much know which department they want to qualify into.” The firm asks all who are interested in an overseas seat to put forward a business case as to why they should go.
Weil you were(n't) sleeping
Weil recruits those it believes will withstand and thrive in a pressurised environment –“people at Weil don't hide. People aren't afraid to work hard.” This means long hours, though these vary by department. “In tax you might work from 8.30am to 6.30 or 7pm,” reported one trainee. “In restructuring you'll start a bit later and leave around 8.30pm.” Corporate and banking are “much more intense,” one source told us. “On my first day in corporate I left at 10.30pm. In the thick of a deal I was leaving at maybe 2am.” A lot of the work is “very time-pressured,” which can mean “waiting in the evening for documents to come in from other parties.” The hours are sometimes long in litigation too: “In the lead-up to a trial, I can be busy till 1am,” said a source, though generally, “you can head off at 7pm or so.” In banking and corporate “it's definitely not uncommon to work weekends” and trainees said they often have to cancel plans late in the day. “It happened a few times that I was told on a Friday afternoon that I would have to work that weekend.”
Though all this talk of long hours and mountains of work might seem off-putting, in fact, many of our interviewees were affronted when we suggested that the long hours might make Weil a less desirable place to start a legal career. “People here are happy to work hard and are quite ambitious,” a typical source said. “I don't know anyone who has come to Weil thinking it's going to be an easy ride.” While working past midnight is “part and parcel of being a trainee,” if anyone is struggling there is “a huge amount of support all around.” The firm even has a support helpline and offers in-house meditation classes. For those less inclined to new-age therapies, “a doctor also comes in to talk about stress.” There are also on-site 'sleep pods' – small rooms where lawyers can catch 40 winks or just freshen up after a late night.
“Recently we organised a trip to Paris for lunch and the firm paid.”
When they are awake, Weil's lawyers are “generally very nice,” according to our sources. “It's a smaller office, so you always recognise faces.” Trainees described the atmosphere as energetic but informal, and while some of the partners operate “at the top of the industry,” our sources didn't find them intimidating. “I remember being surprised at my first interview that none of the partners were wearing ties – in fact, they were leaning back in their chairs laughing and joking.” So what can help you bag one of these interviews? One trainee advised: “What will stand out on your CV is having done something finance-related, even if it's just raising money for a charity.”
While “there isn't an expectation that you have to constantly be socialising,” there are team activities which range from lunches to sports. The trainees get a social budget too – “recently we organised a trip to Paris for lunch and the firm paid.” C'est fantastique!
Weil's retention rates are usually good. 100% of qualifiers were retained in 2014 and 2015, while 12 of 14 were kept on in 2016.
How to get a Weil, Gotshal & Manges training contract
Vacation scheme deadlines (2017): 13 January 2017
Training contract deadline (2019): 31 July 2017
Applications and interviews
Weil’s graduate recruitment team attends law fairs at universities across the UK, including: Bristol, Cambridge, Durham, Exeter, LSE, King’s, 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,” Lisa 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
nterview with Weil's graduate recruitment partner Jonathan Wood
Student Guide: Are there any highlights from the last year that you'd like to mention?
Jonathan Wood: Last year was very strong financially across all of our practice areas. In private equity, the big feature was the increase in IPOs of our clients' portfolio companies as they sought to achieve an exit from their investment. This allowed us to call upon on our equity capital markets expertise to advise our clients on these complex deals. Over the year we advised on five private equity-backed IPOs, including those of DFS and WorldPay. The latter was one of the largest IPOs in the UK in 2015 – it was worth £6.2 billion and created a new FTSE 100 company.
We were also involved in a series of huge deals on the financing side, including Hellman & Friedman’s acquisition of Securitas – Europe’s largest LBO.
In addition – and most importantly from a graduate recruitment perspective – we had a 100% retention rate again last year.
SG: What does the recent NQ pay-rise (to £100k) say about the health of your business?
JW: We are doing very well as a business and we are pleased that this success allows us to compensate our staff well. We have always been clear that the growth in London is very targeted, and growing in this way has allowed us to increase our trainee numbers gradually over time. We now expect to recruit around 15 trainees a year.
SG: Has anything changed about the vac scheme?
JW: No, not really, it’s still unapologetically rigorous but also a lot of fun. We’ve removed one of the exercises, so that candidates have more time in their practice areas. We also introduced video interviews for entry onto the scheme this year.
The partners are very involved in the graduate recruitment process: for example, all of the written applications and the video interviews are screened by partners. This means that applicants are thoroughly reviewed before being invited to a face-to-face interview. We get an initial glimpse of the candidate’s personality and their motivation for applying to Weil – it’s much easier to get this information from a video interview instead of just an application form.
SG: How can someone really stand out on the vac scheme?
JW: There are simple things like having a smile on their face, being enthusiastic throughout, asking well thought out questions and having something interesting to say, for example. We look for people who have thought about what we do before they arrive, have a real interest in our practice areas and have some knowledge of our clients.
SG: Some trainees felt that the seat allocation system was quite opaque. How would you explain it to them?
JW: Well, it’s not really that opaque. Trainees submit their seat choices and we try our hardest to allocate them their preferred seat. Unfortunately it is not always possible. When it's not, it's usually because the seat only takes one trainee; the trainee may have done similar seats already; or the seat is heavily oversubscribed. In those instances it might just be about coming back to the preferred seat choice next time round. With the number of trainees we have, trainees do generally get their first choice – and if not their second – at each rotation. We really try and tailor the training contract to their preferences.
SG: How do you decide who goes on secondment?
JW: The way it works is that we offer two secondment opportunities in either the third or fourth seat: one in New York and one in Hong Kong. We also run a fairly regular secondment to Paris for those who speak French.
We want to pick people who have done really well and have started to form a view on what team they want to qualify into. (Otherwise, if you go overseas and don’t have any notion of where you want to qualify, you are probably missing an opportunity to get experience of a seat in London that you might really like). If our trainees already have a bit of a preference as to where they want to qualify, we can use the secondment to give them useful experience of their preferred practice area in a different jurisdiction.
However, we do not expect them to commit to qualifying in a particular practice by the end of their second seat in order to go on secondment. What most people say is something like: 'I have done two seats and I really enjoyed both and I feel that I might like to qualify into a particular practice at the end of my training. I think if I experience that practice area in, say, New York, it will really help me to form a more rounded view. Does that sound sensible?' It is very much a conversation in which we try to ensure that our trainees have the right experience to give them the greatest opportunity for development and qualification at the firm.
Weil, Gotshal & Manges (London) LLP
110 Fetter Lane,
- Partners 31
- Associates Over 100
- Total trainees 24
- Contact Lisa Powell, Rebecca Player
- Method of application Online application form
- Closing date for 2019 31 July 2017
- Training contracts pa Up to 15
- Required degree grade 2:1
- Training salary (2016)
- First year: £46,000
- Second year: £50,000
- Holiday entitlement 23 days’ rising by one day for each year of service up to 28 days
- Overseas offices Beijing, Boston, Budapest, Dallas, Dubai, Frankfurt, Hong Kong, Houston, London, Miami, Munich, New York, Paris, Prague, Princeton, Providence, Shanghai, Silicon Valley, Warsaw and Washington DC
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 competition, corporate governance and compliance, employment, intellectual property, management incentives, pensions, real estate, tax and technology, leveraging the expertise of its fullservice capabilities for its clients.