Packing your case for an overseas seat is guaranteed at this Big Apple-headquartered giant, but it's closer to home that the action's really hotting up.
Fasten your seatbelts
Fancy a flirt with Frankfurt or a séjour in Singapore? Do you long for Hong Kong? Would you flee to gay Paree? Well, for anyone torn between a serious career and a desire to see the world should take a look at White & Case. The firm stands out for offering every trainee an overseas seat: “It's not an option, it's an opportunity!” intoned one keen globetrotter. So whether you end up doing six months in New York, Tokyo, Johannesburg or Moscow, it should be pretty clear that White & Case wants people with a certain international aspiration.
And it's easy to see why if you look at the Chambers Global rankings, which place White & Case as the fifth most capable global firm in its Global Top 30 – we're talking magic circle territory – and especially in arbitration, finance, projects, energy and construction, the firm sits among the world leaders. Outward-looking they may be, but they're also keen to see the ol' homestead get some attention. The firm's 2020 plan picks out the London office and New York HQ as two priorities for growth, with an aim to boost the former's headcount from 350 to 500 lawyers. “You can see it happening," one trainee told us excitedly. "They're really pushing themselves out there in London, hiring and promoting partners.”
“We're ambitious about competing with the magic circle.”
The City office is the firm's second largest; it's had almost 50 years to bed into the local market and today it hauls in Chambers UK rankings spanning the likes of projects, energy, finance, construction, M&A, data protection, private equity and international arbitration. It's also the biggest of the US-originated firms currently in London, and with its decades of experience it feels almost like one of the City natives: “We're ambitious about competing with the magic circle for work so it's going to be a pretty exciting time for trainees to join,” a source boasted. It's already snapped up Clifford Chance's global banking co-head to lead the charge for more big-ticket M&A work, while other recent laterals have come from heavyweights like Freshfields, Ashurst, BLP and US rival Ropes & Gray. We also hear that capital markets and global financial institutions are areas that have been earmarked for further growth in the capital.
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All of this is good news for trainees, who felt that the firm's “openness about increasing its headcount is reassuring for us as we approach qualification.” Combine this with the “usually high retention rate” and sources were relatively upbeat about the upcoming process.They were right to be: in 2017 30 of 35 qualifiers were retained by the firm.
The trainee intake is also on the up: “We currently employ 75 trainees overall but our target by 2020 is to have an annual intake of 50,” training principal Justin Benson confirms. No need to worry about a shortage of overseas seats either, as Benson adds: “On a monthly basis I face complaints from our overseas offices saying they don't have enough trainees to cater for their needs. The guaranteed overseas seat is core to White & Case.”
All trainees get to list three preferences towards the end of each seat. While sources were relatively happy with the allocation process, many felt the system “could be improved.” One reckoned: “As the intake gets bigger it's becoming more difficult to allocate everyone their first choice.” Several also commented that “there used to be an emphasis on seniority when it came to prioritising preferences but it seems like they've back-pedalled on that.”
A couple of years ago the firm overhauled its overseas seat system; trainees now pick a practice area first and then rank locations where that seat is offered. We heard a few gripes about the new system: “If several people have the same top choice, they pull it out of a hat. If you don't get it they look at your second choice, but if your second choice is someone else's first they get the priority and you go down to your third and it happens again and again,” one source explained. “I think there needs to be a cut off at some point so you don't end up rocketing down to the bottom. There's no easy way of doing it,” another trainee conceded. “It's a really difficult process.”
Capital markets has several sub-teams trainees can join: trusts, structured finance, equity capital markets and high-yield debt. Between them, the teams handle rights issues, private placings, IPOs, restructuring, private equity deals, sovereign bond issues and more. The firm recently advised the Republic of Mozambique on a $1.9 billion sovereign bond restructuring. Another recent highlight saw it act for J.P. Morgan, UBS and VTB Capital on a $250 million equity offer by Russian holding company ROS AGRO, which involved components across Russia, Cyprus, the UK and the US. Banking giants of the likes of Barclays, Morgan Stanley, Deutsche Bank, Credit Suisse dominate the client roster. A seat here features “quite complex financial instruments; you have to use your brain a lot.” However, trainee tasks tend to lean towards the more administrative: “I took the lead on managing documents and inputting comments from various lawyers and parties. I also helped to run bond-holder meetings, ensuring all the documents were ready and printed.” Others had liaised with opposing or local counsel, reviewed memos and conducted research.
The private equity team handles high-value sales and acquisitions for PE investors like Bain Capital and CVC Capital Partners and other financial institutions. While most of the sums involved are kept tightly under wraps, one deal saw the firm advise buyout investors Mid Europa Partners on its $3.3 billion purchase of Polish online marketplace Allegro, who went viral last Christmas with that tear-inducing advert with the Polish grandfather. Like most of the work on offer at White & Case, a stint in private equity is filled with “international, multi-jurisdictional matters. You have to be extremely organised and confident that you can coordinate all the local counsel involved.” And keep those passports handy because we heard a few lucky trainees were flown out to Israel to help run a closing meeting. More commonly rookies conduct due diligence and manage data rooms, as well as some rather extensive check-lists: “I worked on one that had over 400 documents in the end,” one frazzled trainee told us. Others had the chance to take a first cut at drafting ancillary documents: “Towards the end of the seat my supervisor gave me a lot of responsibility on the first draft of certain documents on the smaller matters.”
"I had to think about how best to frame the claim, respond to the other side and keep my arguments concise but sharp.”
Over in the bank finance team, lawyers work for lenders, borrowers and sponsors on financings, refinancings and restructurings. On the lender side, clients include Goldman Sachs, Lloyds TSB and UBS, while Meridian Capital and Cabot Financial feature among the borrowers. Lately the team advised oil company Puma Energy on a roaring $800 million revolving credit facility in a deal spanning the UK, Europe, Africa, the Asia-Pacific region plus the Middle East and Americas. While most of the firm's deals may not feature as many jurisdictions as this one, trainees gained “a lot of exposure to local counsel.” Interviewees noted that “banking can be very administrative; it doesn't matter what sort of client or team you're working for as the tasks are very similar.” Most of the day is taken up with “more procedural things like maintaining the conditions precedent checklist, making sure the files are maintained and documents saved. The more interesting aspects could be amending securities documents, comparing them to previous drafts and thinking about whether changes should be made.” Another deal-doer added: “You'd never be asked to draft a loan agreement but you get to draft ancillary documents like board minutes.”
Like its finance work, W&C's disputes caseload is almost entirely international in scope. Trainees tend to fall on either the litigation or international arbitration side of the team but have the chance to work on both matters by responding to capacity emails. “London handles a lot of big construction arbitration matters, and also a couple of commercial arbitration cases too,” sources told us. Meanwhile the disputes side could see trainees work on anything from white collar regulatory investigations to shareholder spats, like acting for Turkish conglomerate Cukurova Holdings during its whopping $2 billion dispute with Russia's Alfa Group over share ownership of Turkish mobile phone company Turkcell.
“The cases are all massive,” one litigator enthused. “But as a trainee I was still given a discrete aspect to run with, like a section of legal research.” Other tasks “range from preparing bundles to consolidating documents for witness statements. I did a bit of disclosure and doc review as well. The really exciting thing was managing to do some drafting on submissions for smaller claims; I had to think about how best to frame the claim, respond to the other side and keep my arguments concise but sharp.” Several interviewees had also had the chance to have a crack at drafting witness statements.
Come overseas seats time W&C sorts out plane tickets, accommodation and transport to and from the airport. While knowledge of a local language isn't a prerequisite, the firm offers 30 hours of language tuition beforetrainees depart for shores afar. Interviewees who'd spent time abroad relished “being viewed more as a junior associate than a trainee who needs constant supervision.” Others were enthused by the chance to broaden their understanding of foreign legal sectors: “I'm learning a lot more about Asian deals than I would have done working on them in London,” one source explained, while another added: “It's interesting to see the market as it's very different out here in terms of how things are done, and how quickly they're done. It's a lot more intense and clients are really demanding.”
Our interviewees were stumped when we asked themto pin down an average working week: “This week I've been leaving at 6pm, which is somewhat unheard of; last week, I didn't leave before 11pm any night of the week,” one source replied. You can expect “massive peaks and troughs” at W&C,and most of our sources had stayed until the very wee hours of the morning several times. “In two years I've only slept here once; I think that's good,” one piped up. “I slept in a sleeping pod, which was better than the floor.Most of the time, however, I'm out by 8pm.”
"I don't feel too scared to ask the partners for help or disagree with them – so long as I've done the research to justify disagreeing!”
Despite the long shifts “there's a good team spirit. I've never had an associate dump work on me and then swan out for dinner. People appreciate your hard work,” one interviewee told us. “Everyone is fairly driven and likes the big work and the glamour that goes with it,” another reckoned. “It's fast paced. The firm is ambitious to do the best that it can and that spreads down to the people.” When things get “intense and people are low and tired, others are willing to help out.” One source expanded on this point: “I wouldn't say the hierarchy is completely flat but for the most part I don't feel too scared to ask the partners for help or disagree with them – so long as I've done the research to justify disagreeing!” Trainees were also quick to flag that “we see ourselves as a global firm, not a US one; we don't have an American culture. The overseas seats and our long-established overseas offices show we're more globally minded than a lot of US firms.”
Interviewees were adamant that “the cross-office culture is strong: the firm does have that standard global tagline, but there is a sense that this actually is a big global community.” Alongside the overseas seats and regular phone-calls to colleagues on the other side of the globe, there's a couple of other events that bring the firm together. A new associate conference gathers all fresh-faced W&C lawyers from the EMEA region. “Usually they hold it somewhere exotic like Brussels or Istanbul, but we got London,” one trainee reported. “We weren't too happy, but the other offices were thrilled.” There's also the White & Case World Cup, which sees offices around the globe sending teams to compete in a football and volleyball tournament. Anyone can get involved but we heard that lawyers in Berlin and London take it especially seriously! “It's loads of fun; we went to Hamburg and had a big dinner afterwards, which may have gotten a bit out of control – in a good way,” we heard.Provided they can momentarily quell any competitive streaks, the World Cup's “a great way to meet new people: one of the trainees got to meet loads of future colleagues before his next seat in Stockholm.”
The firm told us 40% of its trainees speak a second language. Click on the 'Get Hired' tab above for advice from White & Case on how to use your languages in the law.
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How to get a training contract at White & Case
Vacation scheme deadline (winter 2017): 5 November 2017 (opens 1 October 2017)
Vacation scheme deadline (spring and summer 2018): 31 January 2018 (opens 1 October 2017)
First year insight scheme: 31 March 2018 (opens 1 October 2017)
Training contract deadline (2020): 31 July 2018 (opens 1 October 2017)
The firm holds two open days per year, with 20 spaces available on each. The open days take place in November and are for penultimate-year students, finalists and graduates. The purpose of the open days is to provide participants with a useful insight into the firm and the training on offer. During the open days, there’s an introduction to the business and an opportunity to hear about the role of a trainee from some of the current intake. Participants get to chat with firm lawyers over lunch before receiving practical tips on applications and interviews, and have the opportunity to put their decision-making skills to the test in an interactive business game. The day finishes with another opportunity to speak with a variety of people about life at White & Case over drinks.
First-year two-day insight scheme
In May White & Case will be holding a two-day insight scheme specifically for first-year students. The scheme is designed to help introduce participants to the many areas of law, the different types of firms, and help confirm or dispel any myths associated with becoming a lawyer. Participants will receive guidance on how to strengthen their applications and will get to meet different members of the firm informally over lunch and drinks. Participants will also spend time work-shadowing a White & Case trainee, offering insight into the day-to-day role of a trainee solicitor at White & Case.
To apply for an open day or first-year two-day insight scheme, applicants need to submit an online application form, which is a condensed version of the one used for training contract and vacation scheme applications.
The recruitment process
Aspiring trainees need to have achieved, or be on track to achieve, a high 2:1. The firm also expects AAB at A level and As at GCSE or equivalent. In addition to a good academic record, the firm is on the lookout for ambitious trainees with a desire to gain hands-on practical experience from day one. They should have an understanding of international commercial issues and an interest in working on big-ticket, cross-border work
The firm asks applicants to provide details of extracurricular activities and work experience on their application forms. Both are important for demonstrating that you're well rounded. Graduate resourcing and development manager Christina Churchman explains: “If we haven't already had the opportunity to meet an applicant on one of our vacation schemes, then we expect to see evidence that they have taken steps to find out what it is like to work in a law firm. This can be demonstrated by work experience or vacation schemes undertaken at either similar firms or with an in-house legal team at a large corporate or financial institution.”
A lot of attention is paid to the accompanying cover letter, which should “detail why applicants want to work at White & Case, and highlight the specific characteristics of the firm that attracted them to us, such as our training programme, our clients, or the type of work that we do,” Churchman says. “It's an opportunity for them to show they've done their research and understand where we sit in the market.”
White & Case receives 1,900 applications for its vacation schemes each year, and a similar number for training contracts. Those who impress on the application form are asked to complete an online video-interview assessment. Applicants are asked to respond to a few questions and record their responses. Churchman adds that the video assessment “gives candidates an opportunity to bring their application to life and show us more of their personality.”
Following the video interview assessment, successful applicants are invited to have a telephone interview with a member of the graduate resourcing team. Following this, the firm makes vacation scheme offers; meanwhile training contract applicants who impress go on to attend an assessment centre involving an interview with an associate and a member of the HR team, a written exercise and a group exercise “We're looking to challenge applicants,” says Churchman. Around 50% of candidates then make it through to the final stage interview which takes place with two partners. This includes a presentation on a commercial topic which applicants are asked to prepare in advance. Churchman tells us candidates should expect to be “challenged a little more in this interview and questioned on a broader scope of areas, especially when it comes to gauging their commercial knowledge and interest in White & Case.”
The firm offers 50 training contracts each year, more than any other US-headquartered firm in London. Trainees start in either March or September.
It's worth bearing in mind that 70% to 80% of trainees complete a vacation scheme with the firm before starting. White & Case runs three two-week vacation schemes over the winter, spring and summer holidays. Each vacation scheme has 20 places. Vac schemers can submit departmental preferences before arriving.
During their placement vac schemers sit with an associate. “They can take on as much as they are willing to,” says Churchman, adding: “We are looking for participants to be proactive and to seek out work from as many people as possible so that they have the best chance of understanding the work we do and integrating themselves within the team.” She goes on to tell us that White & Case is “looking for people who have a deep understanding of the firm – it's impressive when a vac schemer already has an idea of the type of work the department does and the deals it's working on.”
On the social side White & Case hosts welcome drinks on the London Eye, plus a vac scheme social; previous activities include sushi making, mini golf and a dinner hosted by the firm’s partners. Vac schemers are also invited to the firm's summer party, which in 2017 was held in the courtyard of Merchant Taylors’ Hall, complete with a band and a barbecue.
Interview with training principal Justin Benson
Chambers Student: What's been happening at White & Case in 2016/17?
Justin Benson: We're continuing to progress our 2020 strategy and bringing in lateral partners and teams to support our growth. The plan involves developing our core strategic areas and expanding our London and New York offices.
In 2016 we had the largest revenue among US heritage law firms in London. We are still described as a US firm but we now have over 100 partners and 300 associates in London; I'd say we're very much a global law firm rather than an American or English one. Part of our strategy is to be seen as one of the leading global firms.
CS: What does the growth of the London office mean for the training contract?
JB: We currently employ 75 trainees overall but our target by 2020 is to have an annual intake of 50. We hope that will be the right size to provide training across our core areas. We want to fully build out our practices and ensure there are sufficient supervisors and work in those areas to provide the best training.
CS: Will you still guarantee everyone a seat abroad even with increased numbers of trainees?
JB: On a monthly basis I face complaints from our overseas offices saying they don't have enough trainees to cater for their needs. The guaranteed overseas seat is core to White & Case.
CS: Has the firm identified any opportunities or challenges with regard to Brexit?
JB: Opportunities and challenges come up on a daily basis and will continue to do so after whatever deal the UK strikes with the EU. The vast majority of work we do is cross-border and involves multiple jurisdictions, so we're not exposed in the same way as other practices or firms with a more domestic focus. We see Brexit as much more of an opportunity than a challenge.
CS: What kind of person thrives at the firm?
JB: First and foremost we're looking for the brightest lawyers. A lot of the matters we handle are first of a kind work in challenging legal jurisdictions; you need to have a dynamic, innovative problem-solving approach. As we deal with so many jurisdictions, we look for people with an international mindset, and because of the overseas seat it's important to find people who are flexible about going abroad and want to experience a different culture and life in another country.
CS: Is there anything else students should know about White & Case?
JB: Last week we just hosted our first two-day insight scheme specifically for first-year students, which went down very well. The first day involves an introduction to various different practice areas and our trainees spoke to the first-years about what kind of work they're likely to see in each area. On the second day, each student was sitting at the desk of a trainee to see what they do on a day to day basis. They were able to sit in on meetings and calls and help out on several tasks. We wanted to give them a snapshot of what life at the firm would be like.
CS: How many first-year schemes will you run in the future?
JB: The scheme was heavily oversubscribed so we may well think about expanding the number of events we put on but we want to ensure we have sufficient trainees who can devote a couple of days to each scheme. We thought inviting fifteen students was the right number.
We've spent a lot more time recently on campuses to speak with law society presidents to identify how best to engage students. We also have open days in November which give people a one-day taster of the firm. Those who enjoy the open day typically apply for our vacation schemes and the training contract. We're predominantly looking to hire the vast majority of our trainees from our vacation schemes as it gives candidates a greater exposure to the firm and we get to see them in action.
The guaranteed overseas seat
Dig out your passport and grab that suitcase because White & Case trainees are guaranteed a seat abroad.
“If you want to operate as a truly global law firm, why not start with your trainees?” White & Case's graduate resourcing and development manager Christina Churchman asks. “It can only be of benefit for trainees and the firm if you start building a global network from as early as six months into your time here.” That's the rationale behind White & Case's guarantee to send all its trainees abroad for six months to one of the firm's international offices. “Going abroad is a brilliant experience to have,” trainees enthused, with one adding: “You'd never get the chance to work abroad so early on in your career in another industry.”
Thirty nine offices make up the firm's international network. Abu Dhabi, Beijing, Brussels, Frankfurt, Hong Kong, Istanbul, Johannesburg, Moscow, New York, Paris, Prague, Singapore, Tokyo are the current destinations which trainees can head to. Rookies usually jet off in their third or fourth seat, although the decision where to go is made somewhat earlier on. “We discuss with HR where we'd like to go and if there are any clashes they pull names out of a hat to decide who goes where,” said a trainee. “It's the fairest way to do it.”
Using your languages in the law
Speaking loud and slow might be all the rage among oiled-up holidaymakers, but if you want to get ahead in the legal world then knowing the local lingo could make all the difference.
The deal’s going south. The clients aren’t happy with something but their business English isn’t good enough to properly explain. The lead partner tries saving the situation with his limited Russian but now the clients are looking aghast, and are starting to walk out the door. 'Captain!' – you assail your surprised supervisor, channelling your best impression of Zoe Saldana's Lieutenant Uhura in Star Trek about to face off with the Klingons: 'You brought me here because I speak Russian, then let me speak Russian.' All it takes is a few questions and the misunderstanding is resolved. The deal is back on and you come home a hero.
While it's unlikely you'll ever find yourself outnumbered and facing the Klingons, it's a good bet that if you're bilingual or multilingual, at some point in your legal career languages are going to work to your advantage. White & Case's graduate recruitment partner Gareth Eagles points out: “Language skills help our lawyers a lot – when deals happen to involve people from the relevant places, they can speak to them in their local language, potentially saving time and cutting to the chase on a given point, or helping them form useful relationships.” Those are probably the most obvious uses of languages in an increasingly international legal profession, but there are certainly a raft of other benefits to knowing the local lingo.
White & Case LLP
5 Old Broad Street,
- Partners 101
- Associates 265
- Total trainees 75
- UK offices London
- Overseas offices 40
- Graduate recruiter: Christina Churchman [email protected] 020 7532 2899
- Training partner: Justin Benson
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 50
- Applications pa: 3,000
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1
- Minimum A Levels: AAB
- Vacation scheme places pa: 60
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications deadline: 31 July 2018
- Winter vacation scheme deadline: 5 November 2017
- Spring and Summer vacation scheme deadline: 31 January 2018
- Open day deadline: 31 October 2017 and 17 November 2017
- First year insight scheme: 31 March 2018
- Salary and benefits
- First year: £46,000
- Second year: £50,000
- Post-qualification: £105,000
- LPC Fees: Yes
- GDL Fees: Yes
- Maintenance grant pa:£7,500
Main areas of work
The training contract consists of four six-month seats, one of which is guaranteed to be spent in one of our overseas offices, including Abu Dhabi, Beijing, Dubai, Frankfurt, Hong Kong, Moscow, New York, Paris, Prague, Singapore, Stockholm and Tokyo. The remaining three seats can be spent in any one of the Firm’s practice groups in London. Receiving a high level of partner and senior associate contact from day one, our trainees can be confident that they will receive high-quality, stimulating and rewarding work. Trainees work in small, focused teams, so their colleagues trust them to perform tasks accurately and efficiently. White & Case is a “high-stretch, high-support” workplace that celebrates individual excellence and team success. We actively encourage our trainees to take early responsibility, and there is a strong emphasis on practical training, with plenty of support and feedback. Alongside the training contract, our trainees are encouraged to get involved in all aspects of our globally-renowned pro bono programme, often working directly with clients and even managing small matters. White & Case recruits and develops trainee solicitors with the aim of retaining them on qualification.
Open days and first year opportunities