With “offices in literally every jurisdiction you could think of” Baker McKenzie has embraced globalisation to become one of the very best at border-busting work.
Baker's dozens and dozens
Over the years, this Chicago-native has steadily blossomed into a truly global firm, unfurling 77 worldwide offices in 44 countries, and using that colourful display to flag down international work as it buzzes by. That's the difficult bit, of course: many firms can snap up a bit of flashy real estate, sling a load of lawyers on a cheap flight and hang a sign above the door. The clincher is making the network of offices work harmoniously, so that jurisdiction-spanning matters, which require intense co-operation, arrive at your door. And they do at Baker McKenzie; they arrive in spades.
Our sources in the capital were keen to point out that, among all those locations, “London is the biggest office, and we're a real driving force in the firm.” Despite the firm's US roots, it's true – London plays host to over 400 lawyers, including the new global chair, “so we really feel like we're at the forefront.” Chambers UK awards the London office top-tier status for its employment and IT practices, plus its public law, commercial contracts, outsourcing and telecoms work. Further high-fives are dished out to its IP, pensions, litigation, competition, capital markets and real estate teams. And the companies it serves are as global as you'd expect: see Shell, Unilever, British Airways, Google and more.
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However, our insiders drew attention to the firm's “real push to develop our transactional teams, which is something that new trainees can look forward to in the future.” This push is part of the firm's 2020 strategy, and partners have joined in banking and capital markets during 2018 from White & Case and Ropes & Gray. Business talk aside, trainees also recalled how “Bakers struck me as being a lot more open and less stuffy than other places – if you look at any department, there will be people from all different types of ethnicities and backgrounds.”
Trainees are guaranteed to get one of their seat preferences over the course of their training contract, although “it's unclear whether you'll get it when you want it.” When juniors rotate seats, “we submit our preferences half-way through each seat, and we'll then find out a week or two before we rotate.” Advisory seats are in high demand, “with lots of people competing for commercial; tax; and EU, competition and trade.” Our insiders explained that “the seat allocation process can be slightly opaque, as it ultimately depends on business needs.” They also noticed that “the transactional departments tend to go to first-seaters, although there's a big push towards getting us to qualify in those departments.”
On the topic of secondments, trainees picked up on the firm “putting more emphasis on client secondments,” rather than international ones. International secondments, which last three months, tend to come about informally – “it's something you organise within your department when you're there” – and some trainees grumbled that “they don't open it up to everybody.” There are stints available in Washington DC, San Francisco, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Singapore and Johannesburg, while client secondments have previously included sojourns to Facebook and Google.
Brexit meets breakfast
Baker McKenzie's hefty corporate department is split into seven subgroups: corporate reorganisation; M&A; private equity and funds; tax; corporate finance; energy, mining and infrastructure; and environmental markets. All subgroups are separate seats so trainees can do repeat corporate stints, “but there are no lines drawn in terms of who you can work with, so there’s a lot of cross-over,” one newbie reported. On the whole the department focuses on the consumer, industrials, TMT and pharmaceuticals sectors. Corporate lawyers recently advised French-based international waste management company SUEZ on the carve-out aspects of its $3.4 billion acquisition of GE Water, a transaction that involved over 110 jurisdictions! The department also represented Post Holdings on its £1.4 billion acquisition of Weetabix from the Shanghai-based Bright Food Group.
“It was quite an admin-heavy seat,” one M&A insider reported, “which involved running internal check lists, taking notes on calls and bundling.” In reorganisation, trainees reported assisting on “interesting reorganisations of company structures, to slot in with what may or may not happen post-Brexit.” They praised the “huge amount of drafting, organising and liaising with local counsel” on offer: “It makes you aware of the intricate ways that companies operate in countries like Spain or Sweden, as well as understanding how contracts vary and what we're asking our client to sign.” Tax work is “extremely varied,” and involves “a lot of advisory VAT work, transfer pricing analysis, as well as the opportunity to go to the tax tribunals, which is always fun.”
“I was acting as the middle person between the teams in Switzerland, Asia and the US.”
The disputes resolution team has specialist sub-groups include construction and project disputes, trust litigation, international arbitration and business crime and fraud – and trainees have the chance to experience all of them. The team recently advised Dubai Islamic Bank in a $2 billion claim to recover $500 million stolen from it in a financing fraud, while other big-name clients include Standard Chartered Bank and Shell. The team also represented Associated Newspapers, the publisher of the MailOnline, against a privacy claim brought by Ashton Kutcher, Mila Kunis and their baby over two articles published in 2015. “I got involved in a whole spectrum of tasks,” one newbie shared, which included “drafting instruction to counsel, writing detailed advice notes to clients and drafting letters to the court. I was involved in strategy meetings with the clients from the very beginning.”
Over in the IT & communications seat, the team advise on a variety of outsourcing, intellectual property, data protection and IT matters for the likes of Google, Amazon, Netflix, Three UK, HSBC and Swarovski (the list goes on and on). “The IP team used to sit separately from IT and commercial,” one source clarified, “but the teams are coming together because there’s so much cross-over – now you can get a good mix of everything.” The team recently advised L’Oréal on its influencer agreements and standard terms of purchase. On the IP side, the firm advised multinational car giant Daimler on a joint venture with Via Solutions to create a new ride sharing platform in London and other cities. “I’ve been involved in lots of cutting-edge data privacy work,” one newbie reported, “and I've also done a hell of a lot of drafting of anti-counterfeiting and brand enforcement clauses.” Other insiders “travelled to Europe a few times – sometimes solo – to attend and conduct interviews with clients which looked into their data retention policies.” Juniors also have the chance to get close and personal with clients during mini in-house secondments: “some trainees will spend one or two days a week at a client’s offices and then the other days at the firm. It’s quite a regular thing.”
"You really look forward to coming to work.”
Bakers’ banking and finance team handles borrower, sponsor and lender clients on a variety of insolvency, acquisition, trade, project and real estate finance matters. “While some firms would split the team up in terms of different banking divisions, we get to try all of them in this seat,” boasted one source. There's a particular specialism on emerging markets work here, which sees the team represent Arab African International Bank. The team recently advised a syndicate of 14 lenders (including BNP Paribas, Scotiabank Europe and UniCredit) on the financing of a Chinese joint venture's acquisition of German energy provider Ista International for €4.5 billion. “There was a lot of project management involved,” one newbie recalled, “which meant I was acting as the middle person between the teams in Switzerland, Asia and the US for a facility agreement.” Overall, our insiders were pleased to report that “trainees are rooted into the team from the get-go. We’re copied in on every email and we get to try the first draft of a lot of security documents too.”
The employment team instructs some of the world’s largest companies on their global restructuring projects, complex disputes, industrial relations and data protection work – with a particular leaning towards retail and financial services. The team took the former head of employment from KWM when it collapsed, and recognisable clients include Hitachi and Michael Kors. The team recently advised Missouri-founded Emerson Electric on the $4 billion sale of its network power business, handling employment, pensions and immigration support in a transaction involving over 10,000 employees across 65 jurisdictions. “I’ve been involved in researching the gender pay gap and answering queries from clients, preparing data processing and drafting privacy notes,” one source shared, while another recalled “dealing with the bundling and advisory work that comes up in litigation.” As well as visiting clients’ offices, trainees are expected to “liaise with local counsel, and ask for their input and advice regarding transfer of employees from one jurisdiction to another, before I draft an initial review of advice that goes to the client.”
Cogs and congas
Trainees were quick to explain that “it's not a cushy training contract here by any means, but the fact that everyone's so approachable makes you really look forward to coming to work,” and while “not all the work is interesting, there are supervisors who really care about your training and want the best for you.” Another added that “nobody takes themselves too seriously either, and partners who are head of their department will come and chat with me even though I'm a trainee.” The reason, perhaps, for all this attention, is that the intake is relatively small for the size of the firm.Trainees certainly saw it that way: on top of department-led training in each seat “you get to work on the most cutting-edge deals without being a small cog.”
But these cogs still spin fast. Hours vary depending on department: in corporate, “the hours can be a bit rough, as there's a heavy workload.” Average hours stretch between 8.30am and 11pm, and later nights scrape past 3am. In banking, trainees “would leave by 8pm at the very earliest,” and “sometimes wouldn't go home at all, although the partner and senior associate would stay with me – nobody was just dumping stuff on my desk.” Litigation trainees experienced an average day of 8.30am–9pm, “with some extremes either way.” In employment, our sources clocked in at 8.30am and left by 8.30pm, with similar hours recorded in commercial too – but rest assured, trainees still called these hours “manageable, and on par with the salary, so you get used to it!”
“By the end of the night we were all dancing with the partners in a conga line!”
To grease the wheels, there's a host of socialising opportunities. Trainees were involved in arranging a 'Bakers Mingle' event every quarter for all members of the office. “They're always themed, so last Friday we had one called multicultural McKenzie with different cuisines and a 'world-music' DJ – by the end of the night we were all dancing with the partners in a conga line!” Other social events have taken a St Patrick's Day, Chinese New Year and Wimbledon theme. Firm tradition also calls for trainees “to do a series of skits at the Christmas party, where we poke fun at the firm and partners. This year we did it on David Attenborough's 'Blue Planet', and followed partners in their 'natural habitat' while a poor trainee tried to escape to the watering-hole for Friday night drinks.” On a more informal note, “it's quite rare that we don't have weekly drinks at El Vino or the Blackfriar pub down the road.”
On the more sobering topic of qualification, the firm runs a relatively tight ship: “During your fourth seat, we're given a list of how many vacancies are going in each department. We're invited to apply for our top two choices by submitting an updated CV and writing 500 words outlining our motivations.” The training committee then evaluate everyone's application, and notify trainees of the outcome within a month. However, “if there are concerns that someone might not get their choices, HR follow up with them individually to see if they can accommodate them anywhere else.”This approach seemed to pay off, as 26 of 31 qualifiers were retained in 2018.
The firm's offices are part of a Swiss Verein structure, which provides them with more autonomy.
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How to get a Baker McKenzie training contract
Training contract deadline: Finalists and graduates: 31st March 2019 (opens 1st October 2018); Penultimate year students: 1st July 2019 (opens 1st June 2019)
Winter open day deadline: 25th November 2018
Spring open day deadline: 31st December 2018
First-year programme deadline: 31st January 2019
The application process is the same for both vacation scheme and training contract applicants, and begins with an online application form and a 'focused' cover letter. “Candidates should focus on their motivations for joining a commercial law firm and Baker McKenzie in particular,” Nicola Stanley – graduate recruitment & development manager – tells us, adding that spelling the firm's name wrong, referring to it as American, or using a stock cover letter are all big no-nos. "The application form provides you with an opportunity to tell us about your experiences to date, and show case why you have the relevant experience to join the firm. We are also interested in those who have met one of our representatives at an event, so always include your personal experiences with the firm."
Interviews and assessments
After applying online, successful candidates are asked to complete an online situational judgement and verbal reasoning test. This is followed by a strengths-based video interview.
From here, those who make the grade – vacation scheme and training contract applicants alike – attend an assessment day which consists of three exercises, including a group exercise, and candidates are interviewed by both partners and associates. “We interview as many non-law as we do law students, so there's not a lot of focus onlegal terminology,” Stanley assures us. “Rather, the day is focused on your commercial awareness and ability to work with others.”
Baker McKenzie runs two vacation schemes in the summer and one in the spring. The spring scheme lasts two weeks, while the summer ones last three. Participants visit two practice areas during their placement; these are chosen based on their preferences submitted beforehand. The vacation scheme includes talks from each department, networking lunches with partners and associates, and a Q&A session with the management committee, plus social outings like bowling nights and pizza-making classes.
All vacation schemers have an interview with a partner at the end of their visit. This takes the form of “a discussion about what they've been doing and how they found the placement,” according to Stanley.
International vacation scheme
Baker McKenzie also runs international vacation schemes, which is unusual among law firms, even big international ones. These can run for eight to 12 weeks, and are split equally between London and one of the firm's international offices.
To gain a spot on an international scheme, candidates must highlight their interest on the application form and secure a place on one of the regular spring or summer schemes and subsequently accept a training contract place. Candidates then meet with Baker McKenzie's graduate recruitment partner to discuss why they are keen to go abroad as part of their vacation scheme. The firm organises flights and accommodation for participants.
Open day and 1st year schemes
In addition to its vacation schemes, Baker McKenzie runs four open days during the year for both law and non-law graduates and undergraduates. The day includes skills workshops, a networking event and lunch with a group of lawyers. The firm has also launched a programme for first-year students that sees them shadow lawyers, participate in workshops, network and attend sessions with the graduate recruitment team.
Becoming a banking lawyer
100 New Bridge Street,
- Partners 109
- Assistant solicitors 276
- Total trainees 66
- UK offices London
- Overseas offices 76
- The graduate recruitment team: 020 7919 1000
- Training partner: Arron Slocombe
- Application criteriea
- Training contracts pa: 33
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1 or equivalent
- Minimum UCAS points or A levels: 340 UCAS points or equivalent
- Vacation scheme places pa: 40
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open, 2021 start: 1 October 2018
- Training contract deadline, 2021 start: 31 March 2019
- First Year Insight Scheme applications open: 1 October 2018
- First Year Insight Scheme deadline: 31 January 2019
- Spring vacation scheme applications open: 1 October 2018
- Spring vacation scheme deadline: 30 November 2018
- Summer vacation schemes applications open: 1 November 2018
- Summer vacation schemes deadline: 15 January 2019
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £45,000
- Second-year salary: £49,000
- Post-qualification salary: £75,000
- Holiday entitlement: 25 days
- LPC tuition fees: Yes
- GDL tuition fees: Yes
- Maintenance grant pa: GDL: £6,000, LPC: £8,000
- International and regional
- Offices with training contracts: London
- Overseas seats: Sydney, Melbourne, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Johannesburg, Brussels, and Madrid. Changes each intake
- Client secondments: Yes, confidential
Main areas of work
Spring vacation scheme: 1-12 April 2019
Summer vacation schemes: 17 June - 5 July 2019; 15 July - 2 August 2019
Open days and first-year opportunities
First-year insight schemes: We offer ten places to spend two days in the firm on 17 to 18 April 2019. There will be a number of skills sessions and each student will spend a day in a department of their choice. Applications open in October.
University law careers fairs 2018
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2018
- Banking & Finance: Borrowers (Band 5)
- Banking & Finance: Lenders (Band 4)
- Banking Litigation (Band 5)
- Capital Markets: Debt (Band 5)
- Capital Markets: Securitisation (Band 3)
- Competition Law (Band 3)
- Construction: Purchaser (Band 3)
- Corporate/M&A: High-end Capability (Band 4)
- Employment: Employer (Band 1)
- Environment (Band 4)
- Financial Crime: Corporates (Band 4)
- Immigration: Companies & Executives (Band 3)
- Information Technology (Band 1)
- Intellectual Property (Band 2)
- Intellectual Property: Law Firms With Patent & Trade Mark Attorneys Spotlight Table
- Litigation (Band 4)
- Pensions (Band 2)
- Real Estate: Mainly Mid-Market (Band 3)
- Tax (Band 4)
- Administrative & Public Law (Band 2)
- Commercial Contracts (Band 1)
- Construction: International Arbitration (Band 2)
- Employee Share Schemes & Incentives (Band 2)
- Energy & Natural Resources: Mining (Band 3)
- Energy & Natural Resources: Power (Band 4)
- Financial Services: Contentious Regulatory (Corporates) (Band 4)
- Fraud: Civil (Band 2)
- Infrastructure Recognised Practitioner
- International Arbitration: Commercial Arbitration (Band 5)
- Life Sciences: Transactional (Band 3)
- Media & Entertainment: Gaming, Social Media & Interactive Content (Band 2)
- Outsourcing (Band 1)
- Private Equity: Buyouts: Mid-Market (Band 3)
- Product Liability: Mainly Defendant (Band 2)
- Retail Recognised Practitioner
- Tax: Contentious Recognised Practitioner
- Telecommunications (Band 1)