Hungry for high-profile international deals? This US heavyweight dishes out a toothsome training contract, with globetrotting guaranteed.
This Big Apple-born behemoth guarantees an overseas seat to every trainee. Unsurprisingly, the ones we spoke with declared this opportunity “a massive draw” rather than a bit of a drag. “At other firms you'd be fighting to get a seat abroad; here it's very hard to get out of it. You'd have to have a very good reason not to go.” Tokyo, Singapore, New York and Paris are popular destinations; Abu Dhabi, Beijing, Brussels, Frankfurt, Hong Kong, Istanbul, Johannesburg, Moscow and Prague are also on the menu.
These offices make up just a fraction of W&C's global spread. The firm's got 39 branches total, from Miami and Helsinki to Istanbul and Riyadh. The London base, established in 1971, is its second biggest, and is among the very bulkiest and brawniest of all the American shops in the City. In 2014 the firm's global revenue stood at a giant £1.5 billion.
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Finance, energy and projects are the firm's core global strengths, and London scoops up Chambers UK rankings in all three areas, plus a few dozen others besides, with top marks awarded for restructuring and construction. Big work highlights of late include joining forces with the Paris team to advise the Gabonese Republic on the issue of bonds worth $500 million, and helping European private equity giant CVC and Singaporean sovereign wealth fund Temasek acquire a controlling stake in a US-based pharma company.
W&C takes on 50 new recruits each year. Trainees tend to go overseas for their second, third or fourth seats, and the destination is decided at the beginning of the training contract (read are feature on White & Case's international seats for more detail). “You have a meeting with HR, and they ask you to go away and think about it for a while, and then everybody discusses it among themselves.” Some intakes draw up a spreadsheet to keep track of people's choices and identify where there might be competition. In the end, HR considers everybody's preferences against business need, and oversubscribed destinations are “drawn out of a hat. It's all done fairly.” Back in London, trainees get to put forward preferences for each seat before rotation. “Inevitably, the more senior trainees are prioritised.”
Printers, projects and paper-pushing
Capital markets has several sub-teams trainees can join: trusts, structured finance, equity capital markets, high-yield debt and regulatory. They aren't always restricted to their assigned area, though. “I sat in high-yield debt but did quite a lot of work outside of that,” reported one, explaining that “high-yield work is very up and down – sometimes it's extremely busy and other times really quiet, which was when associates would grab me and get me involved in more general work.” Visiting the financial printers is a common task in the high-yield group. “The offering memos are printed there, and I'd be waiting to review them as soon as they came off the printers, even if that was at 7am!” Between them, the teams handle rights issues, private placings, IPOs, restructurings, private equity deals, leveraged finance transactions and more. The firm recently advised Helios Towers Nigeria on its $250 million bond issuance, which the company will use to purchase telecoms towers; it also represented HSBC, Deutsche Bank and Citigroup in connection with Mexican state-owned oil group Pemex's sale of shares in a Spanish oil company. Trainees across the department told us “there's quite a bit of admin” to be done, like “adding in comments from clients and the other side as they come in, and checking documents against precedents and standard forms.” Many spoke of emailing clients, listening in on calls, attending meetings and reviewing legal opinions too. And we're told “it's pretty common to get to take a stab at drafting ancillary documents like resolutions and then, as you get more comfortable, first drafts of bigger ones.”
A seat in EIPAF (energy, infrastructure, projects and asset finance) is likely to see trainees come up against some mega deals spanning multiple jurisdictions. Joint ventures, acquisitions and restructurings in the oil and gas sector are frequent here, as are infrastructure deals, like the Slovakian government's recent €1.5 billion financing of a major motorway. Other recent ongoings include advising on the $5 billion Tahrir petrochemical project in Egypt, and acting for Qatar Petroleum and Shell on the multibillion-dollar Al-Karaana petrochemical project in Qatar. Such projects "are very complex and protracted, so it's possible you won't see the whole deal in one seat," warned a trainee. "I spent my six months working on a couple of different transactions that were all at various stages.” Asset finance work, however, tends to gets wrapped up more quickly. Most matters on this end concern the financing of planes, satellites and rolling stock, though shipping finance work is on the rise. Whatever the matter, EIPAF trainees can usually expect to take on bibling, proofreading and general document management, as well as legal research and communication with the other side. One who'd primarily worked on asset finance noted that “with simpler aeroplane transactions you can run with the documents yourself and get hands-on experience drafting letters to regulatory bodies like Eurocontrol.”
Over in the bank finance team, lawyers work for lenders, borrowers and sponsors on financings, refinancings and restructurings. On the lender side, lawyers recently represented JP Morgan and Nomura on the £725 million senior financing for Bestway Group's acquisition of the Co-op Pharmacy. Other clients of late include Bank of Tokyo Mitsubishi, Deutsche Bank, BNP Paribas and Goldman Sachs. Our interviewees here recalled handling generous helpings of doc review and document management, "including managing the CP checklist. You're not just a paper pusher, though; there's the chance to mark up the incoming forms and negotiate these pretty independently.” Drafting ancillary documents is also part of the trainee remit, as is “acting as the point of contact between the client and the firm, keeping the client updated and requesting information as and when.”
Like its finance work, W&C's disputes caseload is pretty much entirely international in scope. Lawyers here recently represented Turkish conglomerate Cukurova in a long-running $2 billion dispute with Russian investment group Alfa over a controlling stake in Turkey's largest mobile phone company; they also acted for a major construction consortium and its shareholders in a $1.8 billion dispute with the Panama Canal Authority over the waterway's expansion project. It's common for trainees to get involved in both arbitration and litigation during their disputes seat. Rookies typically get stuck into proofreading, attending court sessions, and drafting witness statements or particulars of claim. Our sources had positive reviews of their time here, though they mentioned “there's a lot of drudgery associated with high-value arbitrations – doc review, bundling, preparation of documents to be filed at court..."
The long haul
Trainees don't have to fret about the logistics of their sojourns overseas. “Everything is organised – you're picked up at the airport and accommodation is all sorted. You just have to turn up.” A bit of social support is provided too: “In most places you're put on a mailing list with other trainees from London firms working in the city.” Interviewees agreed that “you get a bit more exposure to meaty tasks like drafting in the overseas offices. You're treated more like an associate. It's a good stepping stone towards the independence you'll have after qualification.” One in the Middle East noted that “UK regulatory requirements aren't relevant here, so no two deals are ever the same. It teaches you to think very commercially.”
Both at home and abroad, like with any major City firm, “you have to be prepared for long hours,” cautioned insiders. “Sometimes they're incredibly tough." Indeed, several spoke of being "staffed on massive deals and not leaving before 10pm or 11pm for several weeks in a row.” Luckily, hard graft doesn't go unnoticed. “If you work until 5am, they’ll give you half a day off. The idea isn't to completely destroy you.” Also, “when you're working late, everyone else is as well, so that makes you feel better. It sounds cheesy, but everyone really is in it together.” During quiet times, trainees tend to skip out of the door by 6.30pm or 7pm.
Night at the museum
Our sources told us the working environment at W&C "differs quite a bit between departments." The capital markets team, for example, "contains a lot of New York lawyers who are insanely friendly and prone to banter, so it's quite loud and chatty and fun.” Meanwhile, other departments, like bank finance, “are a bit more buttoned-up,” and we even heard a few teams described as “aggressive,” though interviewees were split on this. “I had heard disputes was mean before joining the team, but actually they're all really nice," said one. "The trainee grapevine is very strong – if someone has a bad experience, word gets around.” One thing our sources did agree on is that “it's a very diverse office” made up of lawyers from all over the world, and as a result, “it doesn't feel particularly English or American; it's much more international.” A good number of trainees with language skills and/or an international background pitch up each year. Neither is a prerequisite, although "it would be rare for the firm to take on Joe Bloggs who only speaks English and who's never shown an interest in going abroad." (Read more on Using your languages in the law.)
There's a lot going on socially. The firm organises an annual football and volleyball World Cup, to which every office sends teams. (In 2015 the sporting jamboree took place in Prague.) That said, it's the big office-wide summer and Christmas parties that form “the peak of the social calendar.” The 2015 summer bash took place on a City rooftop garden, while the most recent Christmas ball was held at the Natural History Museum. Individual departments fill the months between these events with "bonding activities" such as skiing trips or countryside retreats. Also on the calendar is a trainee-only weekend away that takes place in a different destination each year (Budapest in 2015). More informally, there's a Friday drinks trolley that does the rounds in the capital markets department, and “there are always eager trainees sending around emails asking who's up for a drink or dinner.”
Around three months before qualification, the firm releases a job list that “shows which departments have vacancies but not the number of spots. The understanding is that if a department likes you, they'll find space for you.” Trainees send three preferences and an updated CV to HR, who liaise with the teams in question. “There aren't any formal interviews; generally there's a feeling that if you want to stay at the firm and haven't messed up, then you can. Usually retention is high, and the people who don't stay are the people who don't want to.” In 2015, all 27 of the firm's NQs stayed on.
In 2015 W&C raised its NQ salary to £90,000. “It's quid pro quo. They're paying us a lot of money, and they expect a lot in return. There are high expectations and long hours here.”
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How to get a White & Case training contract
Vacation scheme deadline: 31 January 2016
Training contract deadline: 31 July 2016
In 2015 White & Case representatives attended law fairs at 19 universities: Edinburgh, St Andrews, Trinity College Dublin, University College Dublin, Nottingham, Kings College London, Cambridge, Queen Mary, London School of Economics, Leeds, Bristol, Oxford, Birmingham, Newcastle, UCL, Manchester, Exeter, Southampton and Durham.
The firm holds three open days per year, with 30 spaces available on each. The first two take place in November and January and are for penultimate-year students, finalists, and graduates. The day is designed for those with a specific interest in White & Case, and involves a business-related exercise, plus talks on how to apply for a vacation scheme or training contract at the firm.
The third open day is held in May, and is reserved for first year students. This day offers a more general insight into what law firms do with the aim of helping to confirm whether law and life as a trainee is the right path to take.
Students apply with an online form, a condensed version of the one used for training contract and vacation applications.
The application process
Aspiring trainees need a high 2:1 degree, and are usually expected to have straight As in their A levels and GCSEs.
Applicants are asked to provide details of extracurricular activities and work experience on their application. Both are important for demonstrating you're well rounded. Open day and vac scheme applicants can get away with general commercial work experience, though training contract applicants need to demonstrate specific legal experience. As 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.”
Recruiters pay a lot of attention 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 1,300 applications for its vac schemes each year, and a similar number for training contracts. The firm recently introduced an online video-interview assessment to pre-screen candidates. Those who impress on the application form are asked to respond to a few questions and record their responses on video. “We're excited about it,” says Churchman, “as it gives candidates an opportunity to bring their application to life and show us more of their personality.”
The interview process for training contracts
Following the video interview, successful applicants are invited to have a telephone interview with a member of the graduate recruitment team. Following this, the firm makes vac scheme offers; meanwhile training contract applicants who impress go on to attend an assessment day at the firm involving a first round interview. The first round takes place with Churchman and two associates. “We're looking to challenge applicants,” says Churchman, “so we'll ask questions that gauge whether they understand what type of firm White & Case is and what the trainee role involves. We'll also be asking them about their application form and their commercial interests.”
Around 50% of candidates then make it through to a second interview, which takes place with a graduate recruitment partner and another partner. 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 up to 50 training contracts each year. Trainees start in either March or September.
It's worth bearing in mind that between 70% and 80% of each trainee cohort completes a vac scheme with the firm before starting as trainees. W&C runs two two-week vacation schemes over the summer, plus another over Easter. Each has space for up to 30 students. We're told all vac schemers can submit departmental preferences before arriving.
During their placement vac schemers sit with an associate or a partner. “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 W&C 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 are welcome drinks, a vac scheme social and the firm's summer party, which in 2015 was held on the roof terrace of the National Theatre, complete with a string quartet and a barbecue.
White & Case's 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 and 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 use 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 82
- Assistant solicitors 253
- Total trainees 70
- Contact Christina Churchman
- Email email@example.com
- Website www.whitecasetrainee.com
- Method of application Online application via firm website
- Selection procedure Interview
- Closing date for August 2018/ February 2019 31 July 2016
- Training contracts p.a. 50
- Applications p.a. 1,500
- Required degree grade 2:1
- Training salary
- 1st year £44,000
- 2nd year £48,000
- Holiday entitlement 25 days
- All trainees are guaranteed to spend a seat overseas
- Post-qualification salary £90,000
- Overseas offices Abu Dhabi, Almaty, Ankara, Astana, Beijing, Berlin, Bratislava, Brussels, Doha, Dubai, Düsseldorf, Frankfurt, Geneva, Hamburg, Helsinki, Hong Kong, Istanbul, Jakarta Johannesburg, London, Los Angeles, Madrid, Mexico City, Miami, Milan, Moscow, Munich, New York, Paris, Prague, Riyadh, São Paulo, Silicon Valley, Singapore, Shanghai, Stockholm, Tokyo, Warsaw, Washington DC
Our clients are predominantly multinational and include companies and financial institutions; additionally we also act for governments and state-owned entities.
We are proud to represent some of the world's longest established and most respected names alongside many start-up visionaries. Our clients face complex challenges, and the innovative approach our lawyers take means that we consistently deliver the results that our clients need.
Main areas of work
Trainees work in small, focused teams, so their colleagues trust them to perform tasks accurately and efficiently. 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.
Throughout the scheme, you’ll receive continued support and feedback from your supervisor and the graduate resourcing team. The social side of office life is important too and you’ll have plenty of opportunities to network at social events, such as sushi-making classes, dragon boat racing and go-karting.
Remuneration: £350 per week
Closing date: 31 January 2016
Dates: spring: 4th to 15th April 2016; summer 1: 20th June to 1st July 2016; summer 2: 11th to 22nd July 2016
During our open days in November and January (targeted at penultimate-year students, finalists and graduates) there will be an introduction to our business and an opportunity to hear about the role of a trainee from some of our current intake. Participants will be able to chat with members of the firm over lunch before receiving practical tips on applications and interviews, and having the opportunity to put their decision-making skills to the test in an interactive business game. The day will finish will another opportunity to speak with a variety of people about life at White & Case over drinks.
In May we hold an open day specifically for first-year students. The day 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 also receive useful guidance on ways in which they can begin to strengthen their future applications and have the opportunity to meet different members of the firm informally over lunch and drinks.
Dates: 26th November (9th November deadline), 14th January (12th December deadline) and 19th May (31st March deadline).