When this American-born behemoth says: "We want junior lawyers with a global mindset," it's no joke; they will send you far.
Having once kayaked up the Amazon or doggy-paddled down the Volga on a gap year, graduates are very often faced with this conundrum: how do you reconcile your acute wanderlust with the need to get a proper job? Meet White & Case: the proper job for the globally minded. Few law firms come close to the international experience this Manhattan giant affords trainees: the guaranteed six-month seat abroad can take you to destinations like Abu Dhabi, Beijing, Dubai, Frankfurt, Hong Kong, Milan, Moscow, New York, Paris, Prague, Singapore, Stockholm and Tokyo. “It's a very luxurious position to be in," our sources recognised, "because it only helps your professional development.” That's the firm's stance too: "We want junior lawyers with a global mindset who can operate in different jurisdictions and cultures and understand the subtle distinctions between them," says Christina Churchman, graduate resourcing and development manager.
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One trainee told us: “I've not worked on a single national deal; it's all cross-border;” while this may often be the case it doesn't mean the London office is just there to support a network. “London is completely self-sufficient with its own homegrown client base." This sets the firm apart from most US firms in London, but White & Case is a lot more established than most American firms here − and several London ones too. The Chambers UK rankings attest to this: projects, energy, finance and construction all rank highly, which is the story across much of the firm's international network. But the skill set is far broader, with rankings spanning M&A, data protection, private equity and international arbitration, among many others. Top rankings means top clients, like Barclays, Boeing and BNP Paribas.
This is the firm's second largest office after the New York mothership, and trainees here felt that life "is more interesting than at the magic circle lot. We do the same type of work but we're midsized-ish," meaning things like partner and client contact are more frequent. Things are about to get more interesting in other ways too, says training principal Justin Benson: “We have a 2020 plan which focuses on growing both the New York and London offices. They're not only the largest offices but they're in two of the largest financial centres in the world, which is where we originate most of our business. But we're also keen to grow some of our core areas like oil and gas, tech, corporate, private equity and financial institutions.” Three new offices in Cairo, Seoul and Boston recently joined the network (though the Munich office was closed), bringing the global total to 39. This growth has boosted London too: “We've also increased our target annual trainee intake to 50 per year to react to the growth of English law being used around the world,” explains Benson.
“It's a lot of work for big-name companies and banks.”
There are four seats of six months. All trainees get to list three preferences towards the end of each seat. Overseas seats work slightly differently: again trainees list three preferences after a list of availability is sent round, but some locations like New York are so popular it's sometimes a case of “names being pulled out of a hat.” Insiders chortled that “we call it the Hunger Games.” So that the odds may be more in your favour, the firm recently rejigged the system −"it's fairer now," trainees thought. It now works by picking a practice area first and then ranking locations where that seat is offered. Benson points out that this new system has career advantages too: “If you just pick an overseas seat based on location and then end up doing the same work you’ve already done domestically it limits your options for qualification.” Trainees saw the sense in this and mused that “if you don't get the location you want, you just have to lump it. You can always go and visit your fellow trainees abroad anyway.” Trainees usually go overseas in their third or fourth seat, though some go in their second rotation.
Capital markets has several sub-teams trainees can join: trusts, structured finance, equity capital markets, high-yield debt and regulatory. Between them, the teams handle rights issues, private placings, IPOs, restructuring, private equity deals and more. A few of our interviewees had done “quite a lot of high-yield and sovereign finance issue work.” The latter, one trainee explained, might be “when a government issues bonds because their country needs to raise money to build a hospital or road. So the country raises money pretty much in the same way a company would raise money with bonds.” The work takes on a distinctly international note: “It's not just FTSE 100 bond issuing; we deal with African development banks and American investors. A lot of our high-yield transactions are governed by New York law.” Rookies conventionally “review all the bond documentation, make comments on them and liaise with both issuer and bank counsel.” Insiders observed that “a lot of work comes from repeat clients like Bank of New York Mellon, Citibank and Deutsche Bank.” Recent matters include the representation of Wind Acquisition Finance and Wind Telecomunicazioni on the €4 billion restructuring of outstanding debt.
White and black gold
In the EIPAF team (energy, infrastructure, projects and asset finance), joint ventures, acquisitions and restructuring in the oil and gas sector are frequent pursuits. The 125-strong London team has recently worked on the development and financing of a petrochemical complex in Rabigh for Saudi Arabian oil company Saudi Aramco worth $8 billion. Although the department has seen some big deals worth megabucks, trainees told us that “when I first started it was a bit quiet because of the oil and gas price slump. So a lot of deals were halted and we did more asset finance work.” 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. Sources recounted that “it's a lot of work for big-name companies and banks.” Again, this seat is big on cross-jurisdictional work; “we do a lot for the African and Middle Eastern aviation sectors.” On these types of deals, some trainees have even led the closing calls. “There's a script that you have to read out to tie everything together so that after a plane is financed, it makes sure everything is okay for the plane to be delivered.” Most enjoyed their time here: “It's a really intense seat. Half the time I have no idea what I'm doing, but it's great to see deals from the start to the end.” Trainees typically start off “reviewing documents, and amending and commenting on legal opinions.” As experience builds, so does the responsibility, with newbies moving on to “drafting fee letters, securities and assignment documents.”
Over in the bank finance team, lawyers work for lenders, borrowers and sponsors on financings, refinancings and restructurings. On the lender side, clients include Deutsche Bank, Nomura and GSO Capital Partners. In fact, lawyers recently advised GSO on the £250 million debt financing and acquisition of Ibstock Group and Glen-Gery Corporation, using funds managed by Bain Capital Europe. Trainees gushed about their work in leveraged finance: “It's seen as the sexy side of bank finance because we get a lot of responsibility drafting legal opinions, security documents and debentures.” On the restructuring side, after companies had “gone into distress, I got to go to court for a couple of administration extension hearings and I had to draft the shareholders' resolution documents.” Because there's also a lot of interaction with international counsel, other sources had to “contact local counsel to update intercreditor agreements with all the comments from different jurisdictions involved in the matter.”
“Everything is rolled out for you on the red carpet!”
Like its finance work, W&C's disputes caseload is almost entirely international in scope. Lawyers here recently represented the Russian Federation in resisting the enforcement of a $50 billion arbitration award in the UK, the US and Germany, pursued by ex-shareholders in the Yukos oil company. It's common for trainees to get involved in both arbitration and litigation during their seat. “There's more of a focus on international arbitration rather than commercial arbitration, whereas litigation is more commercial-centric.” Juniors are often put on construction arbitrations, “drafting submissions, expert reports, witness statements...” Insiders told us that “it's a great time to be in the department; we've recently been working on a libel scandal too.”
“You basically don't have to lift a finger," told trainees when asked about organising their overseas seats. "Everything is rolled out for you on a red carpet!” W&C sorts things like plane tickets, transport to and from the airport and accommodation, which all sources were “blown away with.” Honorary New Yorkers gushed: “The views from my apartment overlook the whole city. It's insane – nothing like the standard of living I can afford in London!” While languages aren't a prerequisite), sources told us that the firm gives “30 hours of language tuition before we get sent out.” Those on European stints explained that “it's very different to London, because most other offices don't have trainees so they don't know what we're actually expected to do. So you get a lot more exposure.” Others elaborated: “I've been drafting ancillary documents, legal opinions and been the first point of call for people back in London. In London you did work and it had to be reviewed. Here you do it and bam, it's just sent off. It puts you in a better position for when you qualify.”
All White on the night
As at any major City firm, there are late nights in the office to contend with, but trainees acknowledge that this lifestyle is "what we signed up for.” A normal day starts at 9.30am and ends on average around 8pm, and one told us "when it's busy I've left at 10.30pm." However, “it really depends on what department you're in. I did a double all-nighter once, but then the partners do recognise this and give you down time.” One reflected: “You look back and think: how on earth did I work those hours? But you're running on adrenaline.” As arduous as it might seem, no one complained. “They look after you. After 9pm they pay for your taxi home. There are also showers and two sleep pods, which no one really uses."
“A lot of firms say that they're international, but here I really feel it,” trainees agreed. American firms often bring a little of their stateside culture with them, but insiders at this New Yorker claimed W&C is something different: “We no longer sell ourselves as an American firm, but a global one.” Even though “capital markets has a lot of New York-qualified lawyers, it doesn't have an American culture. We don't stay later in the office just because New York is still working.” The vibe is more international than British, too: "A lot of people are foreign or connected to a foreign country in some way. It's actually quite cool when the Euros are on, because it gets competitive in the office.” A few subtle customs have made their way across the Atlantic, though: “The only Americanisms are the perks − the huge parties and the money" − there's a cushty £90k salary on qualification.
“The only Americanisms are the perks..."
Any other perks or parties? There’s the rooftop summer bash at the National Theatre and a marquee in the courtyard of Gray’s Inn. Each department does its own thing: EIPAF recently had a whole-team cricket tournament, while those in banking did “‘escape the room’ and mini golf,” and joked that “I think that we have a few too many socials... and then there’s always a drinks trolley on Fridays for everyone.” One of the biggest firm-wide events is the football and volleyball World Cup. All offices send teams to compete, and this year athletes and enthusiasts alike trekked over to Hamburg for the festivities. “The firm heavily subsidises your hotel and flight.”
Somewhere towards the mid-point of the final seat, HR sends out a job list, from which trainees then submit up to three preferences for qualification. “But often departments will informally tell you that they want you to come back.” Hopefuls then submit a CV and the appraisal forms they’ve accumulated throughout the training contract. There’s no interview, “because they treat the whole time you were in that seat as the interview.” In 2016 W&C retained 27 out of its 35 qualifiers.
A firm-wide new associate conference is held twice a year in a European city with recent get-togethers in London and Hamburg.
How to get a White & Case training contract
Vacation scheme deadlines (2016/17): 2 November 2016 (winter); 31 January 2017 (spring and summer)
Training contract deadline (2019): 31 July 2017
The firm holds two open days per year, with 30 spaces available on each. The open days take place in November and January 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 members of the firm 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 first 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 receive guidance on how to strengthen their applications and will get to meet different members of the firm informally over lunch and drinks. The second day is spent 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 will 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 recruits both law and non-law students.
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. 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.”
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 1,700 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 two associates and a member of the HR team, a written exercise, group exercise and a presentation. “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. 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. Trainees start in either March or September.
It's worth bearing in mind that between 70% and 80% of each trainee cohort completes a vacation scheme with the firm before starting as trainees. White & Case runs four, 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 2016 was held on the National Theatre's roof terrace, complete with a band and a barbecue.
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 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 95
- Assistant solicitors 293
- Total trainees 73
- Contact Christina Churchman
- Method of application Online application via firm website
- Selection procedure
- Vacation schemes: online application, video interview, HR telephone interview, Partner interview (during vacation scheme).
- Training contracts: online application, video interview, HR telephone interview, assessment centre, Partner interview.
- Closing dates
- Training contract: 31 July 2017
- Winter vacation scheme: 2 November 2016
- Spring and summer vacation schemes: 31 January 2017
- Open days: 10 November and 14 December 2016
- First-year insight scheme: 31 March 2017
- Applications pa 3,000
- Required degree 2:1 and AAB
- Training salary
- First year: £44,000
- Second year £48,000
- All trainees are guaranteed to spend a seat overseas
- Post-qualification salary £90,000
- Overseas offices 39 offices globally
Main areas of work