Covington & Burling LLP - True Picture

The future is now at this international firm, where brainy lawyers help brainy clients prepare for the world of tomorrow.

Covington training contract review 2022

The Firm

Founded in Washington, DC on the very first day of 1919, Covington’s historic commitment to regulated industries like technology and life sciences means “the firm prides itself on serving the best clients around.” Of course, technology looked very different 100 years ago – the focus has moved from ships and manufacturing to start-ups and medicines. Chambers Global declares Covington one of the two top providers of life sciences legal expertise worldwide; Chambers UK ranks the London base as one of the best around for all kinds of life sciences work nationwide. The firm’s British base earns further plaudits for public affairs, venture capital, product liability, corporate, data protection, insurance and projects work.

Covington & Burling's Graduate Recruitment Partner Sarah Cowlishaw will be speaking at the Gen Z Summit on Thursday 3 March about how Covid-19 has impacted the legal profession. Don't miss out - sign up here to attend.

Despite a rich history, Covington only set up shop in London in 1988. Training principal Mark Young tells us that when he joined Covington nearly 15 years ago, he recalls the headcount target as “80 to 100 lawyers. Here we are in 2021 and we’re approximately double that number. London has grown from strength to strength.” Young tells us “tech and life sciences continue to be busy and remain core focuses for the firm,” while practices like regulatory, corporate and dispute resolution have grown and “knitted together” Covington’s London offering.

“Interesting sectors, combined with cutting-edge and academic work.”

Noting that work here can be “intellectually demanding,” our trainee sources reported that Covington’s presence in “interesting sectors, combined with cutting-edge and academic work,” means trainees get to “work with giant international clients from across the world on day one. It’s a privilege to do that kind of work from the outset.” Although the firm has built out its London base, sources on the ground told us: “You still benefit from being in a small intake. You can bring your whole self and personality to the table, without leaving anything behind.”

The Seats

Trainees complete mandatory seats in both the corporate and dispute resolution departments (though there’s “a bit of flexibility”) and pick their other preferences at the beginning of their training contract, “which then get reviewed before each rotation.” More adventurous options include pharma- and tech-themed client secondments and overseas seats in Brussels and Dubai. Lockdown-era secondees were “doing it virtually – odd hours included!”

Life sciences is a big deal at Covington, and two seats are available. Transactional  mainly involves contracts, licences and manufacturing and collaboration agreements; the life sciences regulatory practice handles the regulatoryaspects including proceedings before the European Commission, the European Medicines Agency and the Committee for Medicinal Products for Human Use. The firm represents pharmaceutical giants as well as biotechnology, digital health, diagnostic and medical device companies. Novartis recently called on Covington’s advice in a judicial review over recommendation of an unlicensed blindness drug over their own product; other household-name clients on the books include AstraZeneca, GlaxoSmithKline and Johnson & Johnson.

The two sides of life sciences have “a lot of overlap.” Where trainees in a transactional seat get involved with the first drafts of contracts and sit in on negotiations and client meetings, regulatory is a “research-heavy seat” where sources got to work internationally with experts and local counsel “to bring everything together.” There’s also a technology regulatory seat if that floats your boat. This team works “not only with tech companies but in areas like retail and transport where clients have tech elements to deal with.” Recently this meant advising on GDPR compliance as well as “upcoming EU law proposals and how they’ll affect business.” Trainees in this seat conduct similar tasks to those in the life sciences regulatory seat, plus “compiling benchmarking survey exercise reports.”

“Niche digital media licensing work for tech companies.”

Pharmaceutical and tech clients are also common in Covington’s corporate department, but you’ll also find globally recognised names from the tech, media and communications sectors like Qualcomm and Renesas Electronics – “it’s good to have that variety,” trainees suggested. The team does “mainly M&A,” but also has lawyers that do “niche digital media licensing work for tech companies.” Trainees deal with the “administrative” tasks, sit in on client calls and draft resolutions. On a smaller deal they can “run with it” when it comes to liaising with local counsel and drafting agreements. In one of its largest recent deals, Covington advised biopharmaceutical company UCB in its $2.5 billion acquisition of Ra Pharmaceuticals.

In a disputes seat, clients span a similar range from life sciences and tech firms to media, insurance, financial services and energy companies. General disputes, antitrust, arbitration and white-collar are all on offer: “You can ask for which you want to do. It’s customisable.” In one exciting-sounding case, Covington defended Deutsche Telekom in a claim brought by the administrators of Phones 4U alleging a conspiracy put the company out of business. White-collar is sufficiently busy to usually take a trainee of its own: the sub-team does a lot of compliance, corruption and investigations work. “Because of the strength of the practice in the US, we often handle the European angle of anti-corruption investigations,” interviewees explained.This seat regularly involves “ad hoc tasks that tend to be research-based and academic.” Trainees in general disputes “tend to be assigned to one matter” and work on “lots of disclosure and document review and attend court hearing and meetings.”

Trainee Life

Like at many US firms, “pro bono work is strongly encouraged – you can get involved in all manner of things.” As well as “big international projects” helping charities, there’s a local dimension: “We do immigration cases with KIND at Islington Law Centre. You work on a case for a few months helping a family apply for citizenship and make a tangible difference to their lives.” Sources spent “substantial time” on pro bono and told us it’s “never frowned upon. It’s part of the culture.”

“The formidable team spirit of lawyers here was a breath of fresh air.”

Our interviewees described their colleagues as “passionate and invested. The formidable team spirit of lawyers here was a breath of fresh air.” Admitting that they’d “only really seen the culture online” due to the Covid-19 pandemic, many felt “part of a team even sat at home.” Covington has run online social events including classes in baking, cocktail-making and “a perfume essential oil class where they sent out the materials to use.” Mental health speakers ran talks about “being mindful and meditation techniques,” and Zoom yoga “is funny – but you can turn off your camera. It’s a bit strange but we’ve got past it.” As well as wellbeing for all, trainees felt Covington is “proactive on diversity issues – though there’s a lot more work to be done.” An active diversity committee hosts monthly meetings “focused on the challenges and considerations of different groups.”

In normal times, trainees share an office with a partner or senior associate supervisor. While the latest intake has sadly missed out on “learning by osmosis,” the firm encouraged supervisors “to be as proactive as possible. There’s a lot of screen sharing, and we call several times a day.” Trainees also have an associate mentor “to bounce ideas off of, talk about your career goals and anything that might affect you in your personal life. It’s all confidential.” While US firms have a reputation for being more ‘hands-off’ on formal training, we heard “that’s not the case here.” Core training is given at the start of the training contract, followed by “robust sessions in each team. People are experts in their field and are good at explaining complicated concepts in simple language.”

“The firm tries to keep everyone – that’s reassuring.”

Some sought “a slightly more transparent approach to maintaining a work-home boundary” during remote working. “People seem to be working with no set end-point to their day or week.” Trainees did also feel “people respect your personal life and encourage you to switch off… when you can!” Our survey respondents averaged just under 53 hours of work in the past week, “though it’s hard to say because it just varies so much. Some weeks it’s much higher – some days you’re online till midnight.” That said, trainees felt “fairly compensated” for their time.

“Covington isn’t secretive” when it comes to qualification. “There’s a very open atmosphere.” A jobs list is released in May, followed by a “streamlined interview process – hopefully done in the office in 2021!” Insiders said: “The firm tries to keep everyone – that’s reassuring. Even in 2020 there was space for everyone in the groups they wanted.” One with a long-term view said Covington isclearly a place where you can progress to seniority. I’d love to stay here as long as possible.” Covington retained six of its eight qualifiers in 2021.

Care package

Though trainees don’t get a bonus, pro bono hours count towards bonuses from qualification onwards.

How to get a Covington & Burling training contract


Vacation scheme deadline: 11 October 2021 (Winter), 14 January 2022 (Summer)

Insight day deadline:  25 February 2022

Training contract deadline: 8 July 2022

Vacation scheme 

In the summer, Covington and Burling opens its doors to as many as  twenty budding individuals curious about joining the firm. “Our vacation scheme offers students the opportunity to gain an insight into the firm and its culture,” says Jessica Frost, the firm's Legal Recruiting Senior Coordinator, EMEA. “Typically students spend two weeks within two practice areas, undertaking a research project within a third practice area. This allows students to gain a taster of the range of areas they could practice in and the lawyers they could be working alongside.” 

As Jessica Frost explains, there's plenty more involved: “Students undertake group activities and attend presentations from different practice groups, and from across our EMEA offices, alongside social activities and networking opportunities that allow students to get a real feel of the firm.” The firm welcomed their 2020 vacation scheme students virtually, “We designed a meaningful remote experience using digital tools, which we think harnessed the firm's uniquely collaborative culture but also gave a real insight how we operate as a business.” 

Assessment days 

Candidates perform a written exercise, take part in a panel discussion, a group exercise, and an interview. 

Trainees recalled being challenged to argue on one side of a topical scenario, having been given materials to review on that subject. “That was one of the things that made the firm stand out,” judged one source. “It made me think that they were actually taking the time to see how I think, and how that relates to the firm's work.” The firm advises that “you should expect the assessment days to challenge you, so be ready to think on your feet, speak articulately about your experiences and current affairs, as well as demonstrate commercial awareness.” 

Ideal candidates 

Covington requires applicants to have strong grades at A level and a 2:1 degree. “We are looking for students who are passionate about a career in law and are looking for an intellectual challenge,” says Jessica Frost.

The firm offers up to  nine training contracts each year, and while there are clear advantages to this approach, the advanced responsibility means it's not for everyone. Our trainee sources remembered their interviewers checking they knew what they were signing on for: “When I was interviewed the partners asked whether I had applied to other US firms – they were trying to gauge whether I was actually interested in a US firm, with a smaller intake.” That's a question that's worth some consideration.


Covington & Burling LLP

22 Bishopsgate,

  • Partners: 30
  • Associates: 86
  • Total trainees: 13
  • UK offices: London
  • Overseas offices: 12
  • Contacts 
  • Graduate recruiter: Graduate Recruitment Team,, 020 7067 2000
  • Training partners: Mark Young & Sarah Cowlishaw
  • Application criteria 
  • Training contracts pa: Up to 9
  • Minimum required degree grade: 2:1
  • Minimum UCAS points or A levels: ABB or equivalent
  • Vacation scheme places pa: Up to 30
  • Dates and deadlines 
  • Training contract applications open: 30th September 2021
  • Training contract deadline, 2024 start: 8th July 2022
  • Winter vacation scheme applications open: 2nd September 2021
  • Winter Vacation Scheme applications close: 11th October 2021
  • Summer Vacation Scheme applications open: 30th September 2021
  • Summer Vacation Scheme applications close: 14th January 2022
  • Open day deadline: 25th February 2022
  • Salary and benefits 
  • First-year salary: £48,000
  • Second-year salary: £53,000
  • Post-qualification salary: £128,000
  • Holiday entitlement: 25 days
  • Sponsorship  
  • LPC fees: Yes
  • GDL fees: Yes
  • Maintenance grant pa: Up to £8,000
  • International and regional 
  • Offices with training contracts: London Overseas seats: Brussels, Dubai
  • Client secondments: Opportunities are provided to trainees to undertake a 6 month client secondment in the second year of their training contract

Firm profile
Covington & Burling LLP was founded in Washington, DC a century ago. Today, Covington has more than 1,300 lawyers and advisers across our offices in Africa, Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and the United States. We offer services across a wide range of practice areas, advising clients on their most challenging and complex matters. Most of the work has an international element, and all our practice groups operate across borders. Our distinctively collaborative culture allows us to be truly one team globally, drawing on the diverse experience of lawyers across the firm. At Covington, you will have an opportunity to work on cutting-edge deals for international and UK corporates such as Microsoft, Astra Zeneca and Facebook, Fortune 100 businesses and leading technology, life sciences. We have represented Facebook, Inc in its US$22 billion acquisition of WhatsApp and its US$1 billion acquisition of Instagram. We also advised Illumina on a four-year project that will map genomes for breakthroughs into cancer and rare diseases.

Main areas of work
Corporate advisory (capital markets, M&A, finance, private equity, venture capital and funds), commercial litigation, data privacy, competition, employment, financial services, insurance coverage disputes, intellectual property, internal investigations and compliance, international arbitration, life sciences, project development and finance, tax, technology regulatory. In addition, all our lawyers, are encouraged to undertake pro bono work.

Training opportunities
Trainees complete four six-month seats. All trainees undertake a seat within the corporate and dispute resolution practices and optional seats in employment & benefits, life sciences regulatory and life sciences transactional, project development & finance and technology regulatory. Client secondments are available, alongside secondments to our Brussels & Dubai offices. All trainees are supervised by a senior lawyer and have access to a support network and a mentoring programme. Trainees benefit from the responsibilities and opportunities found within a close-knit office, combined with the resources and prestige of a leading international firm. You are quickly able to start contributing to teams and participate in meaningful work.

Vacation scheme
Our vacation schemes provide an opportunity to become integrated into the firm, and participate in real work, group activities and a series of presentations from across practice groups and offices. Students work on an independent research project focusing on a practice area of interest, providing a valuable insight into the work of a Covington lawyer.

Other benefits
Trainees have access to a full benefits package including: pension scheme, health insurance, life assurance, independent financial advice, 25 days’ holiday, an employee assistance programme, child care vouchers, a dental plan, emergency care cover and interest-free season ticket loans. Open days and first-year opportunities Insight Days are aimed at candidates who are still researching their legal careers. The one day programme provides an insight into the firm, its practice areas and the skills you will need to develop to become a successful lawyer.

University law careers fairs 2021
Aston, Birmingham, Bristol, Cambridge, City University, Durham, Edinburgh, Imperial, Kent, KCL, Lancaster, Nottingham, Oxford, Queen Mary, SOAS, St Andrews, UCL

Diversity, inclusion and wellbeing:
Covington is committed to further quickening the pace of progress, and in December 2019 adopted our first written Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) strategic action plan. The action plan has three primary goals: to (1) incorporate D&I into firm leadership and practice group priorities; (2) strengthen and expand client relationships through D&I initiatives; and (3) develop, promote, and retain diverse attorneys at all levels.

Covington’s intentional approach to D&I has contributed to a diverse population of lawyers at all levels. This diversity is also reflected among the leaders of our firm. Women, people of color and LGBT+ lawyers play senior leadership roles in our practice and industry groups within the firm and senior roles on firm committees, including our associate advisory, business, diversity, evaluation, hiring, and legal personnel committees.

Over the last year, we have broadened and enhanced our existing training programs to focus on identifying and addressing implicit bias, leading inclusively, and supporting the contributions of our diverse colleagues. Our D&I affinity groups (such as women’s, LGBTQ+, ethnic minority and veteran-focused groups) reflect and support the diverse population of our lawyers and professional staff. Our affinity group programming includes speaker series, focus groups and one-on-one conversations which create safe spaces to address difficult topics and promote our inclusive culture.

Covington is a member of Out Leadership, a global LGBT+ business network. Lawyers from several of our offices have benefited from the organization’s leadership development programs. Lawyers from our London office participate in “Out of America” events that bring together several London-based LGBT+ affinity groups from firms headquartered in the US.

Our London office has also partnered on graduate recruitment and mentoring activities with Bright Network, an organization started in 2013 to create a network of the brightest students and connect them with the best career opportunities. The organization supports a diverse membership: 75% of their membership is state-educated, 58% female, 40% BAME (Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic), and 43% are the first generation to go to university. In conjunction with Warwick University, we hold regular skills sessions for diverse graduate applicants which include talks about the Firm and our practice areas as well as practical sessions such as mock interviews, networking skills and CV workshops. We are also members of the Black Solicitors Network.

In Brussels, Covington became one of the founding members of the Legal Diversity & Inclusion Alliance (LDIA ), a collective effort by several law firms in Belgium that supports creating a diverse and inclusive work environment by exchanging good practices on diversity and inclusion and raising awareness of non-discrimination and diversity issues. This is the first effort of this kind in Brussels and we are pleased to be among the initial signatories.

Looking forward, we remain wholly committed to diversity and inclusion as core elements of the firm. The job is never complete -- it is always a continuum -- but we aim to make progress against the overarching objectives of building a diverse population within the firm and a culture that is inclusive of the many backgrounds that are represented among our lawyers and staff.

For more information on D&I at Covington, please visit our website.

This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2021

Ranked Departments

    • Commercial and Corporate Litigation (Band 4)
    • Corporate/M&A: Mid-Market (Band 4)
    • Litigation (Band 4)
    • Data Protection & Information Law (Band 2)
    • Fraud: Civil (Band 5)
    • Life Sciences (Band 1)
    • Life Sciences: Regulatory (Band 1)
    • Life Sciences: Transactional (Band 1)
    • Parliamentary & Public Affairs: Public Affairs (Band 1)
    • Private Equity: Venture Capital Investment (Band 2)
    • Product Liability: Food (Band 2)
    • Projects (Band 3)