Arnold & Porter - True Picture

Arnold & Porter is a life sciences star, attracting trainees with a keen interest in the worlds of science and technology.

Arnold & Porter training contract review 2024

The Firm

When you’re out for dinner and you fancy something a bit different, it’s a good idea to ask for the specials. On the menu of training contracts, you have plenty of transactional dishes to choose from, but up on the specials board, you might find Arnold & Porter. “Compared to other US firms, Arnold & Porter offers the opportunity to do more contentious, advisory and regulatory work,” according to our trainee server. It’s a fair assessment. While Arnold & Porter isn’t the only US firm on the block offering a mix of transactional, contentious and advisory work, it isn’t in huge supply either.

Top it all off with a generous helping of life sciences star power, and the dish really starts to stand out. The firm is among the best of the best in the country for life sciences expertise, nabbing tip-top rankings from Chambers UK for its product liability and regulatory capabilities in the space. The firm is also recognised for its strength in investor-state international arbitration, financial crime and commercial litigation. Overseas, the firm has branches in Brussels, Amsterdam, Seoul and Shanghai, and its roots are firmly set in US soil, with HQ in Washington DC. This was good news for one interviewee, who was “eager to work across lots of offices.” 

Just as you might expect of a US firm (and a dish on the specials board), a training contract here is in limited supply, with only two positions open each year. The current crop of trainees that we spoke to had shared interests in medicine and science (“I wanted to be a doctor at one point!”), which drew them to the firm in the first place and served them well in their application.

The Seats 

During the seat allocation process, trainees chat with a partner to voice their preferences. Because of the tiny trainee cohort, most interviewees said they got every seat they wanted, although sometimes it comes down to business need. Overall, “I am very happy with my seat allocation and what I have been able to do,” said one satisfied trainee.

All of our interviewees had done a seat in corporate. “There are lots of partners in this seat, so you work on lots of different things for a wide range of clients.” The team mainly handles mid-market transactions, (think tens and hundreds of millions rather than billions) and has a particular penchant for deals in the pharmaceutical, healthcare and transport industries. In a recent highlight deal, the team advised Wheels Up Experience (a US private jet charter company) on its £84.8 million takeover of Air Partner, listed on the London Stock Exchange. Trainees experienced “a lot in the way of M&A in areas like biotech, life sciences and healthcare, alongside some commercial contract work like licensing and agreements.” For example, the team recently steered Touchlight through the renegotiation of its licence with gene therapy company AskBio, and the company’s exit from their joint venture. Trainees spoke highly of their time in this seat: “Corporate is definitely fun as the processes are always different and there’s lots of managing.” For one, “I was allowed to take the lead on standard corporate work.I was doing general filing, so I really had to stay on top of things!” Others recalled “having lots of drafting experience– documents like share purchase agreements and shareholder agreements can crop up here. Another recalled: “I did a lot of research for things that partners needed, like the bankruptcy process.”

“It’s such cool stuff!”

Life sciences was, unsurprisingly, a popular option among trainees – “it’s such cool stuff!” As one of the firm’s largest departments, it’s very likely everyone will sit here. The group is split between contentious and non-contentious work. The firm represents Pfizer and AstraZeneca on ongoing matters related to their COVID-19 vaccines, and also defended pharmaceutical company Grünenthal against allegations in a group action brought by people claiming to have been born with personal injuries from exposure to thalidomide (a medication used to treat cancer) during pregnancy. The contentious side saw trainees “doing casework and research for longstanding cases on points of law,” and “preparing bundles to go to court for what's needed” for clients such as pharmaceutical manufacturers, biotech companies, healthcare professionals and universities. Trainees particularly enjoyed getting to grips with product liability matters. “The opportunity to work with lawyers in this team is great as it’s slightly different and very technical,” one outlined. “You’re looking at discrete regulatory questions of law so you have to learn to draft responses.” Non-contentious work involved a lot of “drafting or helping to draft agreements that have a life science element, like clinical trials agreements.”

There’s a mix of contentious and non-contentious work over in intellectual property  too. “The team is small with one senior associate and partner,” meaning trainees found they had greater responsibility “doing first drafts for important stuff – so they really trust you!” Trainees got the chance to draft licence agreements and contracts, as well as attend hearings.Copyright disputes are on the cards here, and in a recent database rights dispute before the High Court, the firm represented data collection company IMG Data and a medley of sports leagues – Basketligaen (the Danish basketball league), Bosnia and Herzegovina Football Federation, and Federația Română de Volei (the Romanian Volleyball Federation).

“We have a few ex-scientists.” 

Trainees might sit with the antitrust team, where there was more work with healthcare and life sciences companies to be found, contentious and non-contentious. In a recent mega matter, the team acted for AT&T and Warner Media in the $43 billion spin-off of Warner to Discovery. One remembered working on a particularly “intense merger, with filings in over 20 jurisdictions!” Trainees might be asked to draft filings. Otherwise, “my day to day was assisting associates with what they needed – to be the middle man for counsels in those jurisdictions and carrying out research in the market.” Research was also a common task on the contentious side, along with “drafting notes to clients to respond to queries.”

Trainee Life 

The firm's focus on life sciences also plays a role in the culture: “We have a few ex-scientists, so people care about long-term matters and get excited about them.” And even though there are plenty of experts knocking around, sources told us that “they want to hear trainees' thoughts, so we are pushed to think for ourselves.” What’s more, with the firm’s very small intake, “everyone knows everyone, so it's easier to invest in people's development.” 

Trainees were surprised to find that the firm's culture is “surprisingly wholesome.” Why surprising? “As it is a US firm, I was worried about approaching people so casually, [US firms are often saddled with the reputation for being on the tougher side] but the teams are so cool and helpful and definitely down for a laugh!” As for the social side, there are drinks and nibbles every Thursday evening in the office’s Garden Room, and a planned event every few months. Previous events have included pasta making and the firm's summer party. “This month is shuffleboard!” one trainee enthused.

Much like many US firms in London, pro bono is a “massive part of the firm's culture,” as “everyone from partners to trainees and paralegals gets involved.” Everyone is encouraged to dedicate at least 15% of their billable time towards pro bono. “There’s lots to get involved in,” we heard, from advising charities, to working with families and children, to “assisting an individual with a grievance against the Home Office or a local authority.” Others had worked on “immigration work and pensions and benefit appeals.”

“There are a lot of female role models here.”

Another way in which the US influence was obvious was in the firm’s D&I efforts. “The affinity groups for women, people of colour and LGBTQ+ are firm-wide, so you can connect across the US as well. There is also a diversity affinity group retreat in DC, which is exciting.” The firm was praised for hosting “regular events, workshops and webinars where D&I issues are explored.” The women’s group is fairly active with social events, and “a few months ago there was a self-defence class for the women.” Looking further ahead, “there are a lot of female role models here, if you are interested to know about people who have juggled their career with kids.” Case in point: the office’s managing partner is a woman.

Now, to maintain this work/life balance, you must be eager to know what the hours are like. It is well known that US-headquartered firms have a reputation to work longer hours than UK-based firms, but this didn’t seem to be the case at Arnold & Porter. According to our data, the average weekly hours sit at 42 – below the market average of firms in our guide. Typically, most of our interviewees started work at around 9.30am. The finish time depended on the practice group and business need; reported finish times ranged between 6.30pm to 9pm (and sometimes into the early hours due to busier periods). “I occasionally work weekends, but it isn’t often,”said one, “and I’venever worked over annual leave.

Taking all of the above into account, sources were positive about their compensation: “I think the salary is really good for hours and work I do. I know friends who are trainees at other firms and sometimes they work more and get paid less!” 

When we asked about the qualification process, the word “informal” kept coming up. Around the mid-point of their final seat, trainees are expected to “have conversations with people in the team you would like to qualify into and ask if there’s an opportunity.” The UK teams speak with the US decision-makers to begin the hiring approval process and, typically, “people tend to get what they want.” Most were fairly confident in the firm’s historically strong retention rate. Unsurprisingly, in 2023 the firm once again retained both of its qualifiers.

Selling Sunset: The views are like amazing” from the firm’s prime spot in the heart of London’s financial district. “I send my parents sunset pictures every day.”

How to get an Arnold & Porter training contract


  • Insight day deadlines (2024): 31st December 2023 and 1st March 2024
  • Summer vacation scheme deadline (2024): 14th January 2024
  • Training contract deadline (2025): 31st May 2024


The firm generally receives around 300 applications for the ten vacation scheme places available, with 500 candidates applying directly for a training contract.

All applications begin with the same form. It includes standard questions like 'Why law?' and 'Why Arnold & Porter?' and candidates are also asked to provide examples of situations in which they took responsibility. There are no specifically commercial-based questions.

Insight Day

This is aimed at first-year university students. Throughout the day 15 students will participate in several interactive sessions and skills workshops to gain practical legal experience. There will also be an opportunity to network with A&P lawyers and current trainees who will provide students with an insight into what it’s like to work at the firm, as well as an introduction to the firm's core practice areas alongside advice from the graduate recruitment team.

Interviews for Vacation Scheme

Following an application screening, the firm invites around 25 vac scheme applicants to interview. They carry out a timed written exercise and are then interviewed by two senior fee earners. The task is considered alongside the interview process. Although there is a legal theme, what the firm is really interested in is seeing how the candidate approaches the problem and how they communicate their responseInterviewers discuss the candidate's application and expectations for a training contract at A&P. Typically, ten candidates are chosen to attend the two-week vacation scheme (see below).

All vacation scheme applicants are also deemed to have applied for a training contract. Following the vacation scheme, other candidates who have applied for a training contract but not the vacation scheme are evaluated on paper and some may be invited for interview. The interview follows a similar format to the vacation scheme interviews, but may be slightly longer. Applicants are asked to allow up to three hours for this interview. Following this, shortlisted candidates will have a final interview with the managing partner and training principal before the firm makes its offers.

The firm now takes between three and four trainees a year.

Vacation Scheme

A&P’s vacation scheme is two weeks long and takes place in the summer. Training and inductions take up the first day. Then follows a series of daily workshops, one of A&P’s tools for assessing vacation scheme participants. Each practice group within the London office gives a workshop, which acts as an introduction to its practice and gives the participants relevant tasks to do.

Alongside these workshops, each vacation scheme participant will be given other tasks to work on that tests their drafting skills, capacity for meeting deadlines and ability to follow instructions. They sometimes get involved in pieces of live work lawyers around the firm have on; they aren't tied to a specific team or department. At the beginning of the two weeks, the vacation scheme participants are given a topic and are asked to prepare a short presentation to be given to colleagues in the office at the end of the fortnight.

Arnold & Porter

Tower 42, 25 Old Broad Street,

Firm profile

Arnold & Porter is a US headquartered firm with a deserved reputation for its quality of service and expertise in handling the most complex legal and business problems, which require innovative and practical solutions.

Main areas of work

Arnold & Porter’s London lawyers advise on a full range of regulatory, transactional and litigation matters, with a particular focus on pharmaceuticals and medical device regulation and litigation, intellectual property and technology transactions and litigation, employment, competition and trade regulation, international arbitration, white collar crime UK enforcement and dispute resolution, corporate and securities, investment management and product liability advice and commercial litigation. Providing clients with an excellent service is Arnold & Porter’s number one priority, and the firm’s lawyers need to be commercially minded, approachable and able to work with clients as part of a team on complex and often high-profile legal issues.

Training opportunities

The firm looks for talented law and non-law graduates from all backgrounds who share the firm’s commitment to excellence, and want to be part of the continued growth of its London office. Candidates need to demonstrate a consistently high academic background with mitigating circumstances considered; the firm looks for well-rounded individuals who can demonstrate their participation in a range of extra-curricular activities and achievements. Four six-month seats: life sciences and healthcare regulatory, IP, corporate and securities, competition, international arbitration or white collar crime.

The firm encourages individuals to work across specialisms and emphasises teamwork, so trainees may find that whilst they are working in one group, they undertake work in a variety of different areas throughout the firm. Trainees will be expected to work on several matters at once, and assume responsibility at an early stage.

For more information please go to the Careers section on the website and select London Trainees.

An important aspect of the firm’s culture is its commitment to pro bono. Trainees and all lawyers at the firm are encouraged to take part in our pro bono programme and devote up to 15% of their time to it, helping young lawyers develop client management skills from an early stage.

Diversity and Inclusion

Recognising that entering the profession can be difficult, especially for those from less advantaged backgrounds, the firm was a founding member of the Social Mobility Business Partnership and a PRIME signatory. PRIME is an alliance of law firms across the UK and Republic of Ireland, committed to improving access to the legal profession through work experience. Through these partnerships, we offer year 12 students work experience and continue to support these students through a tailored mentoring program.

The London office is also committed to several initiatives including InterLaw’s Diversity Forum Student Lab Summit: a one-day event to support high-potential, diverse students from all UK universities and backgrounds on their career journey.

We have recently partnered with Bright Network which is an early careers platform for students whose mission is to level the playing field for candidates from historically underrepresented backgrounds to access opportunities in different industries including the legal industry.

Insight Days

We will be hosting two insight days, one on Wednesday 10th April 2024 and one on Wednesday 26th June 2024. Throughout the day you will participate in several interactive sessions and skills workshops to gain practical legal experience. There will also be an opportunity to network with our lawyers and current trainees who can provide you with an insight into what it’s like to work at Arnold & Porter, an introduction to our core practice areas alongside advice from our graduate recruitment team. The two insight days are open to 1st year university students on both law and non-law university courses. Please apply to the day that is most suitable to you.

Vacation schemes

The firm takes around ten summer vacation students each recruiting year. Whether you are a law or non-law student, the firm will introduce you to life in a busy City law firm. You will spend two weeks working on a variety of projects and workshops with partners and associates throughout the London office. Apply via the firm’s website by 2nd January 2024.

Other benefits

Healthy incentive bonus, Christmas bonus, private health insurance, private dental insurance, life assurance, season ticket loan, cycle scheme, vision allowance and employee assistance programme.

University law careers fairs 2023

Aspiring Solicitors, Bright Network - Future Leaders event, InterLaw Student Lab University of Birmingham, University of Manchester, SOAS University.

This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2023

Ranked Departments

    • Commercial and Corporate Litigation (Band 5)
    • Financial Crime: Corporates (Band 5)
    • Life Sciences: Product Liability (Band 1)
    • Life Sciences: Regulatory (Band 1)
    • Public International Law (Band 4)