A&O attracts intellectually curious candidates with its bigwig banking practice and prestigious global brand.
“I wanted to work for the best possible firm and on the biggest deals, which narrowed down my choice. Of course, the magic circle branding was important as it can open many doors.” Indeed, who needs ‘alohomora’ when you have a firm like Allen & Overy on your CV? However, getting in in the first instance isn’t as easy as waving a wand: A&O’s ranks are filled to the brim with overachievers, albeit approachable ones. To distinguish it from its magic circle peers, interviewees said: “We’re known as the friendly magic circle firm! People here are very ambitious and like to work hard but it’s a fun environment to work hard in – it pushes you further.”
“A&O felt like home from the first interaction and I haven’t regretted my choice at all.”
A&O bags more top-tier Chambers UK rankings than we can list here, and the firm's achievements are even less concise in Chambers Global, in which the firm is identified as a worldwide leader in banking and finance, projects and energy, capital markets and dispute resolution. Additional draws for trainees included the large trainee intake “ensuring an all-rounder training contract,” the salary (what a surprise) and its international network with a whopping 44 offices. “A&O felt like home from the first interaction and I haven’t regretted my choice at all,” confirmed one junior. In 2020, the firm reported a 5% increase in revenue with figures rising to £1.62 billion, weathering the initial storm of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The seat allocation process is now done through a points-based system, via a seat planning app which asks trainees to allocate a point from 1 to 10 (with 10 being the “most preferred”) next to each seat on the list. “The good thing about this system is that you’ll be guaranteed at least one of your priority seats,” we heard. “For example, if one trainee has placed a 10 next to tax and another placed a 9, the one with the 10 would get the seat. If the system is faced with a tie breaker, they would look at your previous seat and decide from there.” Trainees preferred the new system as it makes the process “transparent and fairer.” Trainees do compulsory seats in two of the firm's three core practice areas: banking, corporate, and international capital markets (ICM). Trainees can apply for client and international secondments for their fourth seat.
The firm’s standout banking department is separated into seven different areas: corporate lending and real estate finance (B1), structured and asset finance (B2), leveraged finance (B3), restructuring (B4), projects, energy and infrastructure (B5), regulatory (B6), and funds and asset management (B7). Cross-border work is commonplace in all these seats, as are matters with enormous value attached: the team recently advised the mandated lead arrangers on LVMH’s €15 billion loan financing of the public bid for Tiffany & Co. We heard “banking departments are a great first seat if you can get one. They’re great for building core – if not strictly legal – skills like managing a conditions precedent checklist, signing and dating hundreds of documents, bibles, originals and even occasional drafting of ancillary docs.” At the time of our calls, a majority of those we spoke with had done a stint in one of the banking departments in their first seat.
“Banking departments are a great first seat if you can get one.”
Project finance (B5) was a particularly popular banking choice. It splits between “those working on the project finance side, then around a quarter of the team deals strictly with the project development. Trainees can work on a mix of matters.” The team advised the Office of the Quartet, UN, on the structuring of the Gas for Gaza project – a gas pipeline constructed from Israel to Gaza to serve as a solution to the ongoing energy and humanitarian crisis in Gaza. “The project contract and development side is a lot more technical and so as a trainee you’re there to support the team with day-to-day research and drafting documents they need help with.” Trainees on the finance side of the team would carry out “a lot of deal management. We’d manage the conditions precedent checklist, communicate with agents and borrowers, liaise with the local counsel and handle the drafting and re-drafting of various security docs.” Over in structured and asset finance (B2), “around 70% of work is surrounding aeroplanes and the other 30% is shipping.” The team advised the Vroon Group, an international shipping company, on its €1.5 billion restructuring of its 22 bilateral financing agreements. “It’s very similar to corporate lending and real estate finance when it comes to the tasks. There’s a lot of conditions precedent checklists and drafting documents,” one trainee reflected.
Corporate follows a similar subgroup structure to the banking team – we spoke with trainees who sat in commercial corporate (C2), private and public M&A (C4) and energy & infrastructure corporate (C8). There’s a greater “variation of deals” than in banking, and sources reckoned “you have to think more rather than always whipping out a precedent.” The department handles complex M&A deals with a heavy finance component. The team continues to advise Greensill Capital, a provider of capital finance, on its $800 million investment from the SoftBank Vision Fund, valuing Greensill at $3.5 billion. The team also advised Marks & Spencer on its 50/50 joint venture with Ocado Group; and advised Asahi on its $11 billion acquisition of Carlton & United Breweries. Sources in private and public M&A stated they “cannot sing the praises of this group enough. We’re led by A&O’s most senior female partner and we can see a lot of interesting deals.” In these kinds of matters, trainee responsibilities weren’t quite as interesting, with due diligence and managing CP checklists regularly on the cards. Corporate commercial (C2) is split into “half advisory and half transactional elements." The team advises on commercial issues such as outsourcing contracts, software licensing, IP, marketing, online Ts&Cs, and joint venture agreements. "We handle bespoke contracts relating to a bunch of sectors such as aerospace or agriculture,” said one trainee.The group also advises on non-contractual issues like data protection, freedom of information, and document retention policies.
A&O’s ICM practice houses securitisation, debt and equity capital markets, general securities, and derivatives and structured finance. Some trainees had also sat with the “smallest team in ICM” – the corporate trustee and agency team. The securitisation team recently advised NatWest Bank and NatWest Markets on a synthetic securitisation of £1.1 billion in loans to the sustainable energy market in the UK. Another matter saw the team advise J.P. Morgan, Banca IMI and others on a €1.7 billion issue of four series of project bonds. “There’s definitely a better deal flow in ICM,” a source said. “I’ve worked on around 15 to 20 deals compared to when I was in projects (B5) where I only worked on three big deals.” Another trainee praised the “good level of responsibility in the seat. Trainees can get a first stab at drafting, work on prospectuses, agency agreements, and the signing and closing agenda. It’s a great seat to build up your confidence in drafting as each transaction consists of around five to six documents.”
“We get in on the juicy and fun details.”
Over in litigation, options include banking and finance investigations, corporate and commercial litigation, employment, IP and international arbitration. On the arbitration side, one trainee pointed out how the team “handles the advocacy itself since the partners are QCs, so we get in on the juicy and fun details.” In a recent investor-state arbitration, the team represented the Kingdom of Morocco in a settlement of investment dispute (ICSID) claim brought by an Italian construction company, Impresa Pizzarotti & CSpA, regarding the construction of a motorway tunnel under the old town of Rabat. A general litigation matter saw the team acting for Rangers Football Club in merchandise manufacturing and sale disputes surfacing out of its commercial relationship with SDI Retail Services (a part of Sports Direct). “There’s a lot of legal research to do, which is pretty much the main role. There is some drafting but it’s more restricted in contentious seats,” one trainee explained. IP litigation is “split into hard IP patent work and soft IP” consisting of brand designing, copyright and trade marks. Some work was more repetitive in nature like “drafting another report on a type of screw,” but source also flagged “nuggets of interesting work to get involved in. Since we’re part of the litigation team, we get to sit with the barristers and help build strategy.” The firm encourages trainees to write articles on current issues and present case law updates to the rest of the department. “We also get involved in the business development side since A&O’s IP team, although ranked, is less well known.”
Trainees don't necessarily have to do a full seat in litigation – they can also gain their contentious experience through 40 hours of pro bono. Sources homed in on the pro bono efforts taking place in light of the current affairs at the time of our calls: “We’ve been handling a lot of Covid-related matters with NGOs and some criminal justice work. We’ve also been working with Allen & Overy’s US offices in light of the Black Lives Matter movement, to provide legal advice to protestors.” Another regular pro bono haunt saw trainees give advice at legal clinics such as Battersea. Most sources picked up pro bono work regardless because the 40 hours are a requirement before going on secondment in the fourth seat. Common secondment destinations include Tokyo, Singapore, Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Milan and New York.
We heard “there’s no generic line when it comes to the hours – you’re there for as long as the work needs to be done.” For kinder seats, trainees would be looking at regular 9am starts and 7–7.30pm finishes. Other seats weren’t quite as consistent; the transactional teams "have the reputation for the worst hours.” Others noticed that “banking is more sustained busyness, whereas corporate seems to have highs and lows. You can leave at 6pm for a couple of weeks and then be leaving at 6am the week after.”One source admitted “the sacrifices that you need to make in your personal life in order to maximise your opportunities can be obscene,”but this may be a reflection of the high expectations trainees have of themselves as much as external pressures.
Another area where experiences differed was supervisors. Most juniors were full of praises – “all of the associates and seniors that you work for are incredibly switched on, so you are expected to be at the top of your game and you are always pushed intellectually.” On the other hand, some sources suggested the firm could do more to standardise the level of supervision across seats: “Supervisors whose trainees leave [their seat] after an unsatisfactory experience are just given trainees again in the next round, which I cannot understand.” The firm assures us that high-quality training and supervision is of paramount importance: supervisors all attend various training programmes (which incorporate trainee feedback), and new supervisors in particular are given training at the start of a seat rotation. Our interviewees found that during the 2020 lockdown period they were able to build strong connections with their supervisors, most of whom would “schedule a quick call every morning to make sure everything is okay and go through the agenda for the day.”
“Even in the two years I’ve worked here, I’ve seen marked improvements on all fronts."
On the diversity front, trainees felt “the firm could be better in terms of ethnic minorities, but it is addressing that – it's not going to happen overnight.” As if the firm read this trainee’s mind, A&O recently announced a new set of ethnicity targets for 2025. The firm is aiming for 35% ethnic minority representation for its trainees, 25% for its lawyers and staff, and 15% for partnership. “Even in the two years I’ve worked here, I’ve seen marked improvements on all fronts,”an insider concluded. “It is clear to me these are all strategic priorities for the firm in the months and years ahead.”
Come qualification,trainees bid for the department of their choice around “two months into the final seat. You can rank as many seats as you like.” Sources suggested keeping an open dialogue with the partners and associates of your preferred team – “have chats with them, go out for coffee and just make them aware of your intentions. It’s pretty transparent so the end result doesn’t come as a shock.”Although initial retention rates tend to be steady, one interviewee reckoned that further down the line “the hours aren’t sustainable. Not everyone sticks it out for more than a couple of years post-qualification.” In 2020, 68 of 78 qualifiers were kept on.
Look after the pennies…
In an attempt to curb the impact of Covid-19, A&O has cut its NQ salary to £90,000, pressing pause on the pay war of the past few years along with most of its magic circle counterparts.
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How to get into Allen & Overy
Training contract deadline (2023/2024): 20 December 2020
A&O First deadline: 11 February 2020
A&O First is a programme for first-year undergraduates studying a three year course or second-year undergraduates from four year course. Applications are welcome from all degree disciplines. Students typically come in for a two-day workshop during the Easter break and then return for a day at the firm in September before they start their second year. “Many A&O First students go on to do a vacation scheme with us and secure a training contact, the scheme provides a great opportunity to build you’re A&O network early on in your university career.” says Graduate Recruitment Specialist, Emma Barker. The application involves “an online form and situational judgement test (SJT) short. Successful applicants will then invited to complete short a interview with a member of the graduate recruitment team.
Separate to A&O First, the firm will be running and attending a number of virtual events for students and graduates which include presentations and fairs to enable you to get to know A&O. .
A&O runs vacation schemes at two different points in the year in the winter and summer, so you can opt to apply for the one that works best for you. Screening of the completed online application forms is done manually, and recruiters look for evidence of a clear interest in the law, commercial awareness, and why a candidate is applying to A&O. Be sure to tailor your application: many people still send in standardised applications that could equally be sent to other firms. Take our word for it: even though A&O is a big firm the application process is competitive so spending the time at this first stage is important.
Interview with graduate recruitment partner and training principal James Partridge
Allen & Overy LLP
One Bishops Square,
- Partners 550
- Associates 1649 worldwide
- Total trainees 168
- UK offices London, Belfast
- Overseas offices 43
- Contact [email protected]
- Application criteria
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1
- Minimum UCAS points or A levels: 136 UCAS points (AAB)
- Vacation scheme places pa: 50
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: 1st August 2019
- Training contract deadline, 2022 start: 22nd December 2019
- Vacation scheme applications open: 1st August 2019
- Vacation scheme 2020 deadline:
- Winter – 20th October 2019
- Summer – 22nd December 2019
- Open day deadline: 13th February 2020
- A&O First deadline: [postponed due to COVID-19 outbreak]
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £46,500
- Second-year salary: £52,500
- Post-qualification salary: £100,000
- Holiday entitlement: 25 days + bank holidays
- LPC fees: Yes
- GDL fees: Yes
- Maintenance grant pa:
- - £9,000 for the GDL
- - £10,000 for the LPC
Main areas of work
Open days and first-year opportunities
A&O are hosting an Open Day on 17th March 2020, open to anyone in the second year of their undergraduate degree and onwards, as well as graduates from any degree discipline who want to get greater insight into a career in commercial law.
University law careers fairs 2019
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2020
- Banking & Finance: Borrowers: Big-Ticket (Band 1)
- Banking & Finance: Lenders: Big-Ticket (Band 1)
- Banking & Finance: Sponsors (Band 2)
- Banking Litigation (Band 1)
- Capital Markets: Debt (Band 1)
- Capital Markets: Derivatives (Band 1)
- Capital Markets: Equity (Band 1)
- Capital Markets: High-Yield Products (Band 3)
- Capital Markets: Securitisation (Band 1)
- Capital Markets: Structured Finance (Band 1)
- Commercial and Corporate Litigation (Band 2)
- Competition Law (Band 2)
- Construction: Non-contentious (Band 4)
- Corporate/M&A: High-end Capability (Band 2)
- Employment: Employer (Band 1)
- Environment (Band 2)
- Financial Crime: Corporates (Band 1)
- Information Technology (Band 3)
- Intellectual Property (Band 2)
- Intellectual Property: Law Firms With Patent & Trade Mark Attorneys Spotlight Table
- Intellectual Property: Patent Litigation (Band 1)
- Litigation (Band 1)
- Pensions (Band 1)
- Public International Law (Band 4)
- Real Estate Finance (Band 1)
- Real Estate Litigation (Band 5)
- Real Estate: Big-Ticket (Band 4)
- Restructuring/Insolvency (Band 1)
- Tax (Band 2)
- Administrative & Public Law (Band 2)
- Asset Finance: Aviation Finance (Band 1)
- Asset Finance: Rail Finance (Band 1)
- Asset Finance: Shipping Finance (Band 2)
- Commodities: Derivatives & Energy Trading (Band 3)
- Commodities: Trade Finance (Band 3)
- Data Protection & Information Law (Band 3)
- Employee Share Schemes & Incentives (Band 3)
- Energy & Natural Resources: Mining (Band 4)
- Energy & Natural Resources: Oil & Gas (Band 1)
- Energy & Natural Resources: Power (Band 1)
- Energy & Natural Resources: Renewables & Alternative Energy (Band 1)
- Financial Services: Contentious Regulatory (Corporates) (Band 1)
- Financial Services: Non-contentious Regulatory (Band 2)
- Financial Services: Payments Law (Band 2)
- Fraud: Civil (Band 4)
- Infrastructure (Band 1)
- Insurance: Mainly Policyholders (Band 2)
- Insurance: Non-contentious (Band 2)
- International Arbitration: Commercial Arbitration (Band 2)
- International Arbitration: Investor-State Arbitration (Band 3)
- Investment Funds: Real Estate (Band 3)
- Life Sciences (Band 1)
- Life Sciences: IP/Patent Litigation (Band 1)
- Life Sciences: Transactional (Band 2)
- Outsourcing (Band 4)
- Private Equity: Buyouts: High-end Capability (Band 2)
- Projects (Band 1)
- Projects: PFI/PPP (Band 1)
- Social Housing: Finance (Band 2)
- Telecommunications (Band 2)
- Transport: Rail: Projects & Infrastructure (Band 2)
- Transport: Rail: Rolling Stock (Band 1)