One of the world's strongest legal brands, A&O offers "some of the best training in the City" – and majestic views over it from its roof terrace bar.
“Whatever practice you choose, you can be confident that you're working with the best lawyers out there.” This trainee captured the true value of joining A&O: the place will make your career. This London institution is a magnet for high-achieving graduates who will learn from top partners, huge clients and the meatiest international work. The firm has so many Chambers UK rankings it would make quite tedious reading here, so instead we’ll draw your attention to Chambers Global’s worldwide rankings, showing A&O as an outright world leader in capital markets, finance, dispute resolution and projects & energy. The array of practices on offer is broad, and the firm’s corporate practice is certainly accomplished, but A&O’s true forte is finance. Names like Deutsche Bank, HSBC, Goldman Sachs, RBS, and J.P. Morgan call on the firm for anything from aircraft finance to funding offshore wind farms.
“Lawyers sit alongside technologists and work through problems together.”
In the inevitable comparison with its magic circle compadres, A&O can be defined by its banking strength – only Clifford Chance can really compete on this. Our sources also thought A&O expresses its individuality by “trying new things and being innovative.” On our visit to the Spitalfields HQ we got a peek at the new Fuse innovation space, where “lawyers sit alongside technologists and work through problems together.” It has the feel of a Shoreditch coffee shop – a trainers-on, MacBooks-out kind of place. “Advanced delivery” is the aim of Fuse, according to graduate recruitment partner Claire Wright. More specifically, finding ways to “develop tech-enabled solutions to produce something more efficient, that meets requirements and gives clients better value for everything they do.”
Growing its presence across the pond is another firm priority. The legal rumour mill has long been speculating over whether A&O and Californians O'Melveny might join forces – this remains a rumour for now. Wright notes: “The US has always been part of our strategy – that's no secret. That will either happen through a combination with one or more firms, or through trying to attract the best lawyers in those particular jurisdictions.”
The firm has slightly tweaked the seat allocation system recently. During their LPC trainees attend a networking event at the firm and log their seat preferences, which they can then amend during their first seat. Trainees have the option to put down a 'priority' seat which is “almost certainly guaranteed.” Trainees must complete a seat in two of the firm's three core areas: corporate, banking and international capital markets (ICM). Recently, however, “a lot of people were applying for the same priority seat, which made it difficult for the firm to guarantee everyone their priority.”
Under the mammoth umbrella that is banking, trainees can get involved in seven subgroups: corporate lending and real estate finance (B1), structured and asset finance (B2), leveraged finance (B3), restructuring (B4), projects, energy and infrastructure (B5), regulatory and consumer credit (B6), and funds (B7). In a case that perhaps typifies this department’s work, the team advised the lead banks (including Deutsche Bank and HSBC) on a $25 billion acquisition loan facility to back the $49.4 billion acquisition by British American Tobacco of the remaining stake in its rival, Reynolds.
Banking was described as “high intensity” due to the number of deals – “as soon as one closed you were on to the next.” The majority of trainees found banking to have a “more specific, carved-out role for trainees which is stuck to more because the team is so big.” For interviewees, this involved running the conditions precedent check list, which meant “a lot of exposure to clients, the other side, and local counsel if it's international.” Drafting ancillary documents also falls to trainees, although in certain areas, some sources progressed onto “drafting clauses in credit facility agreements.” Some interviewees had “run more minor, simple deals – I handled those from document negotiation and liaising with the client, through to closing and post-closing.” Other more typical tasks included drafting legal opinions, commercial research and general project management.
“The partner let me do the first draft.”
Corporate also has subgroups, which cover areas including commercial, competition and M&A. At the time of research, GDPR prep was in full swing: those in commercial found there was “a lot of amending documents to take into account GDPR requirements, or writing policies from scratch” as well as “emails of advice on data protection and privacy.” Commercial also covers IP work, telecoms work, and general commercial contracts. One source recalled: “One day a senior associate was sick and someone had to draft this agreement that day, so the partner let me do the first draft – then he edited it – but normally that would have gone to a senior associate. They're good at getting you involved with the appropriate supervision.”
Competition work is often “more advisory” and involves “more research tasks.” A&O is often instructed on complex transactions, usually merger control or behavioural matters, which means “there is a lot more scope for complex legal questions to arise.” The team dealt with the competition aspects of Lloyds Banking's acquisition of the MBNA credit card business from Bank of America for £1.9 billion. Trainees had “been on dawn raids” and “compiled alerts into client-readable formats and sent those out” alongside the vast amounts of research in corporate seats.
Within A&O's ICM practice, trainees had sat in areas such as securitisation, debt and equity capital markets, and derivatives and structured finance. The latter was the most common with interviewees, and similarly to banking, a lot of the work surrounds “managing the process of the transactions.” On top of “emailing clients and chasing the relevant documents,” some trainees had also been able to try “the first draft of a prospectus.” Others explained: “Some people work more on the regulatory side; the work there involves advising on the relevant regulations.”
Although trainees don't have to do a full seat in litigation – they can also gain contentious experience through 40 hours of pro bono at legal advice clinics – there are a few seat options available for those who are interested. Subgroups include employment, IP, international arbitration, banking and finance investigations, and corporate and commercial litigation. Sources felt litigation was “like a different world to the transactional teams – the pace is different because the deadlines are usually longer, it's more predictable as to what the hours will be like, and the clients are often less demanding!” Overall, the work itself involves “less drafting at junior level because with litigation there is zero room for mistakes.” Instead, trainees found the seat was more “research-based” and involved a fair few admin tasks and trial prep – bundles and doc review. Occasionally, trainees had “been asked to write witness statements” but “everything is reviewed several times before going out.”
“At first you feel like an imposter.”
Trainees usually jet off on secondment in their fourth and final seat. “Most people get to go if they want to” thanks to the sheer number of secondments on offer, but it helps if before heading off you've done the seat in London first. Similarly to regular seats, the firm put on a 'secondment fair' where “trainees and NQs who have been to those offices come in and we can speak to them and ask about what they've done.” Trainees then list as many preferences as they like (both international and client secondments), and can write 200 words on why they've picked their top choice. Allocation is then based largely on a candidate's grades and appraisals from their previous seats – “it's quite a meritocratic process.”
“Everyone here is super smart: you get used to the fact the person next to you speaks five languages or went to Harvard. At first you feel like an imposter, but then you find that everyone is really welcoming.” At A&O there is no escaping the long hours – at this level of the profession it’s demanding. Our sources thought banking generally had the longest hours, with some sources staying “until 11pm to 12am for several nights over three or four months,” and at times it can continue “well into the night.” But because of this, banking was where “Saturday and Sunday were most sacred.” Other departments such as corporate reported more 8pm to 9pm finishes, but on occasion trainees left between 6pm and 7pm. What matters more is how the teams and the firm deals with the demands. “Because we're doing late hours together, I feel like other people have your back,” concluded one trainee. “I never felt like I was being left on my own,” agreed another. When you're here until midnight, you're usually here with some fun people.”
“I feel like other people have your back.”
Importantly, “people treat you with a lot of respect” and the teams are “very inclusive of trainees.” One added: “You're not just a human resource.” And “people tend to be quite approachable – there's not a sense of seeing a partner and ducking out of the way!” When you’re pulling many a late one, it helps to have top-notch digs equipped with “everything you could ever need.” We're talking a plush canteen, a GP, a dentist, physio, a masseuse, a hairdressers, dry cleaning, music practice rooms, a bar, a sauna and a gym that's “free for A&O employees.” Not to mention sleep pods – in theory you'd never have to leave.
On our visit we had to inspect the “ridiculous views of London” from the panoramic rooftop bar named Levanda, which holds Friday barbecues in summer. The views were indeed “ridiculous,” the IPA very drinkable and we could easily see why it was such a hit with trainees. Not that you'd ever need to, but if you want to venture out of the office and into Spitalfields market, there are “loads of places to eat and things to do.”
As well as the pro bono option instead of the contentious seat, we learnt that there's “as much scope as you want to get involved in pro bono.” There are “dedicated pro bono officers in London” and the firm has also introduced a secondment to the pro bono team which is new this year. Several sources mentioned “going to legal advice clinics and giving advice on things like housing issues.” Other topics included “helping with citizenship applications” and “reviewing supply chains for our partnered charities.” War Child was the firm's global charity partner in 2016-18. Sources found “the firm is encouraging of it if you have time. There's no sense that you shouldn't be doing pro bono and only doing billable stuff.” Another plus is “you get to do work you wouldn't usually get to do – in advice clinics we work for the employees, rather than the employer.”
“I was told by people in the industry that it had some of the best training in the City and that's definitely been the case.”
Training was a huge draw for our sources: “I was told by people in the industry that it had some of the best training in the City and that's definitely been the case.” It starts with a “very thorough” two-week induction, followed by “training sprinkled throughout your training contract.” This includes a “training crash course when you start a new seat” and “team lectures or meetings on relevant updates and know-how.” Trainees reckoned “they're very good at making sure you're ready to take the step up to being an NQ.”
When qualification rolls around, the process starts with fourth-seaters putting in “indicative bids” on departments they're interested in qualifying in. These departments can then “see how many people are interested and how many places they want to offer.” Once the jobs list is released, trainees put in final bids and can rank them in order. “If you don't get any of those, HR will call you up and ask if you want to apply anywhere else.” Candidates can also apply for jobs in international offices. Sources noticed “there seems to be a lot of qualification opportunities in banking, so if you really like banking you'll probably be alright.” They admitted: “It can be difficult qualifying into niche seats. They don't hire as many as bigger teams.” In 2018, 70 of 86 qualifiers were retained.
“The firm recognises that the female partnership figure is disappointing and it's keen to do something about that.” The firm is part of the 30% Club, which means it aims to have a 30% female partnership by 2020. Currently 20% of partners are women.
How to get an Allen & Overy training contract
Vacation schemes deadline (2018): 31 October 2018 (winter, opens 1 October 2018); 31 December 2018 (summer, opens 1 October 2018)
Training contract deadline (2021): 31 December 2018 (law and non-law, opens 1 October 2018)
Open day deadline: 14 February 2019
A&O First deadline: 14 February 2019
A&O First and open day
A&O First is an initiative for first-year undergrads (both law and non-law), providing ongoing contact with the firm. Students come in for a two-day workshop during the Easter break and then return for a day before they start their second year. “If it works for the students and us, it's the start of our relationship with them,” says graduate recruitment partner Claire Wright. “Many go on to do a vacation scheme and then the training contact.” The application involves “a shortened version of our application form and a short telephone interview with a member of the graduate recruitment team.” In addition, the firm offers students the opportunity to apply for an additional day of work experience at one of its international offices.
Separate to A&O First, the firm also runs an open day for anyone to attend, which include talks, workshops, and networking opportunities.
A&O runs vacation schemes at two different points in the year, 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 recruiters absolutely hate this and are guaranteed not to send your application to the next stage if you send them a generic boilerplate.
Candidates can apply for a spot at A&O via an online application form. At this stage the firm asks for your academic history, details of previous work experience, and for you to answer three short essay questions. After this, candidates have to complete an immersive video-based Situational Judgement Test which is designed to provide a realistic preview of what you might experience as a trainee at A&O.
The assessment centre
The interview and assessment process is the same for both the training contract and the vacation scheme route. After the initial online application, candidates who make the cut progress to an assessment centre consisting of two interviews, a case study interview (with a partner) followed by a competency interview. Each lasts for about an hour. For the case study, you're given a folder of information containing a range of documents. These could be a short legal document, a meeting note, an email or a press cutting. A scenario might be that your partner has been called into a meeting so you've got to take over and meet the client on your own. You've got about half an hour to identify the issues then give a short presentation to the 'client' (the partner-interviewer) on the issues you've spotted followed by a discussion.
“It's not a legal test,” recruiting partner Claire Wright points out. “We're testing the ability to assimilate a lot of information and order your thoughts, presentation skills to a client/partner, and commercial awareness. We don't expect you to know legal and technical language like 'indemnity' or 'conditions precedent'. Your solutions don't need to be couched in legal or technical terms, and therefore candidates with a non-law background are certainly not at a disadvantage.”
How to wow
In recent years, our interviewees have been split roughly 50/50 between those with a law degree and those who did not do law. Our interviewee pool has also contained individuals who went to non-redbrick and non-Russell Group universities.
How can a candidate really impress at interview? “Show vigour, enthusiasm and attack the subject matter. Offer a solution, even if it's not feasible! Clients need to know how to solve the issue. Be prepared to address all issues. Clients face all sorts of issues – for example, commercial, financial, reputational and political – not just legal. There are hints in the case study notes about this. Also, show you're calm under pressure, can order your thoughts in a coherent fashion, and can absorb lots of information.”
Interview with graduate partner Claire Wright
Chambers Student: Are there any highlights from the last year you think are important to mention?
Claire Wright: We continue to focus on our advanced delivery and on what our clients want, but making sure we're delivering it to them in the most imaginative and efficient way. Fees are part of that advanced delivery. When any department is working on a particular matter for a client, they are approaching the matter with the client and discussing the most efficient way to deliver it. We're always keeping this in mind and making sure we're collaborating with them. We're not just talking about more standard platforms in which documents can be shared, but looking for ways in which we can develop tech-enabled solutions to produce something more efficient, that meets requirements and gives clients better value for everything they do.
CS: What's the firm's current strategy going forward?
CW: On the legal side, we need to continue to focus on our US strategy. We need to make sure we are able to offer UK and US law in all our key jurisdictions. That is imperative. The US has always been part of our strategy – that's no secret. That will either happen through a combination with one or more firms, or through trying to attract the best lawyers in those particular jurisdictions. That has been our strategy for a long time and will remain so for several years going forward. We also want to strengthen our practice in China, India, and other emerging economies. We recently had a fantastic presentation by an Indonesian partner highlighting predictions that Indonesia will be the fourth biggest economy. Our existing Indonesian practice is thriving – we're well placed to really embrace the development we can expect there.
Another area we're really focused on, which isn't necessarily business-related but ultimately reflects our business and reflects our ability to attract the best talent, is diversity – gender, LGBT, BAME. All of these are really important to us. Historically we haven't done so well in areas such as gender diversity, but we are really focused on developing that and have introduced lots of initiatives. It's not just about recruiting lots of women at trainee levels – on that front, we've always had about 50/50. Where we've struggled is in retaining them at mid-senior associate level. We have a number of initiatives: for example, senior associates are going to be mentored and supported so that the pipeline for partners is more balanced. We have targets for making sure that 30% of our senior management roles will be filled by women.
CS: How is Brexit affecting the firm?
CW: Brexit continues to be out there as an issue. It hasn't affected our levels of business at all. We continue to advise clients on a range of issues emerging from Brexit, but I don't think it has impacted us in the way we might have expected. Obviously there's still a lot of advice required and we've given it. We're well-placed to advise clients on all aspects of Brexit. Some clients are still considering what it ought to take in order to react to what's happening. Because the Brexit deal is so slow to emerge, there's still a lot of work to be anticipated.
CS: How are new technological developments affecting the firm?
CW: There's a lot of things going on. We are using the combination of all our offices and legal services in Belfast. We're using Peerpoint, which provides clients with senior and able lawyers who are able to slot into particular positions, whether in our firm or the client's firm. We're using tech-enabled solutions to ensure quick and efficient delivery. We deal with enormous global clients, sometimes with 40-50 jurisdictions involved, which means an enormous number of documents and firms to coordinate with. We're using a combination of our legal services centre, Peerpoint, and AI. We have something called Collaborate, which enables us to share documents and deliver them in an efficient way. There are also things like MarginMatrix [a digital solution aiding banks to deal with regulatory compliance].
CS: What sort of person thrives at the firm? How can a candidate really impress at interview?
CW: Not much has changed in terms of what we look for. We are trying to define what the lawyer of the future needs to look like, but things don't change too much. Obviously there is the focus on advanced delivery. I want to recruit people who are very forward-thinking – people who aren't just aware of it, but who are thinking very hard about how the future of the profession is going to affected by different ways of delivering service. A big part is the ways in which tech will enable us to provide things differently and efficiently. If I interview someone who is not remotely aware of that, I would be concerned. We want people who would come into the office and think how to do a task in a more efficient way. We want people who will energise people around them – enthusiasm that will rub off on other people. We want them to be excited about trying to find different ways of doing things, not just doing it for the sake of it. It helps create an environment of innovation and advanced delivery. But that doesn't mean we're not looking for people who are intellectually resilient, emotionally intelligent etc. None of that changes.
CS: What advice do you have for readers about to enter the legal profession?
CW: I still think it's an enormously exciting profession. It's a fantastic place to start and it gives you the opportunity to work with like-minded people. You also have the opportunity to work on exciting clients' businesses, and get huge exposure to different types of industries. You are tasked with finding solutions to problems – it's intellectually demanding and stimulating. Above all, at A&O you are provided with an amazing environment to fulfil your potential. People either stay and become partner, stay and pursue a different path (like legal tech, or programme management), or end up somewhere not created yet. It's not just the straightforward legal path that has existed for ages. Equally, it sets up you to open a new business, or maybe work for a bank, or go into consultancy. I still believe law is an astonishingly good career to embark on. You work really hard but you get rewarded – not just financially, but through the satisfaction from working on great deals, and great development with really good people.
Allen & Overy LLP
One Bishops Square,
- Partners 554
- Associates 1854 worldwide
- Total trainees 168
- UK offices London, Belfast
- Overseas offices 44
- Contact [email protected]
- Application criteria
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1
- Minimum UCAS points or A levels: 135 UCAS points (AAB)
- Vacation scheme places pa: 50
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: 1 October 2018
- Training contract deadline, 2021 start: 31 December 2018
- Vacation scheme applications open: 1 October 2018
- Vacation scheme 2019 deadline: 31 October 2018 (winter); 31 December 2018 (summer)
- Open day deadline: 15 February 2019
- A&O First deadline: 12 March 2019
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £45,000
- Second-year salary: £50,000
- Post-qualification salary: £83,000
- 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
- International and regional
- Overseas seats: 34 available
- Client secondments: 9
Our trainees can expect a rewarding experience that will prepare them for a career at the very pinnacle of the profession. In each of their seats they’ll support a senior associate or partner, with exposure to work that crosses departments and borders – in fact, 73% of the firm’s work involves two or more jurisdictions. Around 80% of trainees have the chance to spend six months in one of our 44 overseas offices, or on secondment to one of our various clientele – who include 87% of Forbes’ top 100 public companies.
The legal industry is changing fast, and we’re working to equip our people with the skills and knowledge they will need to operate in the legal landscape of the future. For trainees, this means an in-house training programme characterised by flexibility and choice – like the chance to take a litigation course alongside their rotations.
Built on the work of talented and motivated people, in a supportive and collaborative environment, we’re dedicated to challenging the status quo and leading the way in commercial law. So whatever you’ve studied – and around half our trainees have a degree in a subject other than law – we will help you develop into an exceptional lawyer and learn to do work of the highest possible standard.
Main areas of work
Candidates must have a genuine interest in law. Commercially aware and quick to adapt; our well-organised trainees need to be effective team players with an eagerness to learn.
Open days and first-year opportunities
We also have 80 vacancies for an open day on 14 March 2018, 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 2018
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2018
- Banking & Finance: Borrowers (Band 1)
- Banking & Finance: Lenders (Band 1)
- Banking & Finance: Sponsors (Band 2)
- Banking Litigation (Band 1)
- Capital Markets: Debt (Band 1)
- Capital Markets: Equity (Band 1)
- Capital Markets: High-Yield Products (Band 3)
- Capital Markets: Securitisation (Band 1)
- Capital Markets: Structured Finance & Derivatives (Band 1)
- Commercial and Corporate Litigation (Band 2)
- Competition Law (Band 2)
- Construction: Purchaser (Band 3)
- 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: Patent Litigation (Band 1)
- Litigation (Band 1)
- Pensions (Band 1)
- Public International Law (Band 2)
- Real Estate Finance (Band 1)
- Real Estate Litigation (Band 4)
- Real Estate: Big-Ticket (Band 3)
- Restructuring/Insolvency (Band 1)
- Tax (Band 3)
- Administrative & Public Law (Band 2)
- Asset Finance: Aviation Finance (Band 1)
- Asset Finance: Rail Finance (Band 1)
- Asset Finance: Shipping Finance (Band 1)
- Commodities: Derivatives & Energy Trading (Band 3)
- Commodities: Trade Finance (Band 3)
- Data Protection & Information Law (Band 3)
- Employee Share Schemes & Incentives (Band 2)
- Energy & Natural Resources: Mining: International (Band 3)
- 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)
- Fraud: Civil (Band 3)
- Infrastructure (Band 1)
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- Insurance: Non-contentious (Band 2)
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- International Arbitration: Investor-State Arbitration (Band 2)
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- Transport: Rail: Rolling Stock (Band 2)