This prestigious US import is making a splash in London’s life sciences and technology scene.
Covington & Burling training contract review 2024
“Covington is different to a lot of other American firms,” one trainee told us. “For one thing, it’s headquartered in Washington DC as opposed to New York, which means it has access to a very different sort of client base, and that really sets the tone of the firm.” After ten decades in DC, Covington & Burling has built a big reputation at the intersection of law and public policy. In fact, after President Obama’s inauguration in 2009, Covington partner Eric Holder became the Attorney General of the United States. But wherever you find yourself, the firm’s focus on heavily regulated sectors like tech and life sciences has brought plenty of that emphasis across the pond. Here in the UK, Covington bags top-tier Chambers UK rankings in both transactional & regulatory life sciences and public affairs, alongside strong showings in data protection & information law and product liability.
“…it has access to a very different sort of client base, and that really sets the tone of the firm.”
While the smaller intake was a big draw for trainees, the current cohort was quick to emphasise that London wasn’t simply a satellite office for Covington’s practices in the US. As one source put it: “The firm has tried since the beginning to keep the small-firm atmosphere here in the London office, while maintaining the reputation of a prestigious law firm standing on its own two feet.” In fact, 100% of survey respondents at Covington indicated that they felt the firm added value to their CV, and with good reason. Covington’s recent work includes client names such as Microsoft, Astra Zeneca and Meta, and the firm has represented Ukraine in its high-profile case against the Russian Federation at the International Court of Justice.
Before starting, incoming trainees at Covington attend a ‘seat spotlight’ event, which provides an introduction to the various seat options from the relevant partners and associates. Trainees then rank their options from first to last: “Those rankings stick with you throughout your training contract,” one trainee recalled, “but they understand that your interests adapt and change as you progress, so there is room if you are feeling slightly different to what you signalled at the beginning.” Alongside the standard contentious requirement (one of arbitration, white-collar crime or litigation), there is a compulsory corporate seat (one of corporate, project finance and life sciences transactional). Secondments are also a big part of life at Covington, with time at one of the firm’s pharma clients a popular option, as well as international seats in Dubai (corporate & finance) and Brussels (EU competition law).
As one of the firm’s central practices, it’s relatively common for trainees at Covington to get a taste of life sciences transactions at some stage. “The group works on a lot of commercial agreements, things like licences in relation to the development of drugs and medical devices,” one source explained, “but there’s also a side of the practice that assists with the due diligence on corporate deals with related clients; from small biotech companies to multinational pharmaceuticals.” For trainees in the seat, there will inevitably be some work with household names too - Covington’s life sciences client list includes the likes of Johnson & Johnson, GlaxoSmithKline and Oxford BioMedica. In one recent deal, the firm advised pharma company AstraZeneca in the sale of its rights to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) medication Eklira to Covis Pharma Group. While typical trainee tasks in the seat revolved around due diligence work and drafting, sources described it as: “very client-facing.” As one put it: “It’s a very technical seat, so the drafting can be a learning curve, especially for someone without a science background. But the team is really good at making it accessible.”
“Whether it’s cybersecurity or AI, we work on the big issues that are catching the attention of the media.”
“Probably one of the firm’s flagship teams” is how trainees described the technology regulatory department at Covington. “The work that we do revolves around dispute regulatory and compliance advice,” one trainee explained; “a lot of what we deal with is quite data protection-heavy, but it isn’t solely data protection. The team is always expanding its practice. Whether it’s cybersecurity or AI, we work on the big issues that are catching the attention of the media.” The department’s client list should be sufficient to keep tech aficionados happy too, with names like Microsoft and Meta to name a few. In one recent matter, the firm advised a number of tech companies on the jurisdiction and scope of the US-UK Data Access Agreement, which was introduced to remove the barriers blocking service providers in one country from sharing user data with law enforcement authorities in another. Where clients need advice of this kind, “there’s a lot of factual legal research,” one source recalled, “whether that’s working out what the law is, or what our response to a certain regulator should be.”
As trainees were quick to point out, Covington’s corporate department plays host to a variety of work, from private and cross-border M&A, to capital markets, venture capital and private equity. “You really can try your hand at a bit of everything that’s on offer,” one trainee recalled, “because the practice really works together as one.” Covington’s corporate clientele tend to come out of the firm’s sector focuses, so there’s a host of life sciences, energy and tech clients, from Equinor ASA to Arcutis Biotherapeutics. In a recent deal, Covington advised Odyssey Therapeutics in its acquisition of UK biotech quantum machine learning company Rahko. “Depending on where you are on the deal, there is a very high level of client contact,” one source told us. Aside from time sitting in on client meetings and chasing documents from the other side, typical trainee tasks included “drafting emails, board minutes, disclosure letters, and ancillary agreements on joint ventures.”
“The subject matter, the disputes, the relevant laws, they are always very global. You’re operating across time zones and it’s exciting to be a part of.”
The international arbitration team covers both investor-state arbitration and commercial arbitration, though in London it’s more heavily weighted towards the latter: “The international arbitration team, as the name suggests, involves defending clients against various claims made against them by the arbitral institutions,” one trainee explained. Trainees in the seat reported that the commercial side typically involves work on things like licensing and distribution agreements: “It is quite black-letter law heavy, so quite academic. It involves doing research, discussing your findings with your supervisor, and then preparing to draft submissions for a filing.” On the more practical side of these submissions, sources pointed out that with no paralegals in the London office, there can be plenty of more administrative tasks at the junior end too. But on the flipside: “It’s very international. The subject matter, the disputes, the relevant laws, they are always very global. You’re operating across time zones and it’s exciting to be a part of.” In one recent commercial case, the firm represented Ukraine’s national energy company Naftogaz in a multibillion-dollar investment treaty claim against Russia over the seizure of assets in Crimea following Russia’s annexation of the peninsula.
As one of the smaller teams at the firm, an employment seat at Covington provides trainees with an opportunity to play a bigger part in the team's day to day: “Employment is one of the smaller teams at the firm with only seven or eight core staff,” one source commented, “but there is room to have more of a direct project management function as a trainee.” The employment work at the firm covers the advisory side of employment law regarding things like office policies and remote working, as well as close work with the corporate arm of the firm on the employment law aspects of major M&A deals. “We also have a growing ESG practice, and one of the associates in the team has an employment and human rights focus,” one trainee added, “so there is a lot of research into that kind of thing which is really interesting.”
If you’re looking for a room with a view, then look no further than Covington’s 22 Bishopsgate office: “I think our London office is the biggest part of the draw,” one trainee remarked; “I think it’s the highest office block in Europe west of Moscow, and we’ve probably got the best views in the city from the top.” There’s also a free team lunch on a Wednesday in the office, as well as free coffee at all hours. Trainees are expected to be in the office Tuesday to Thursday: “It used to be three days a week whenever it worked for you, but now they’ve settled on those three specific days.” According to trainees it’s pretty strictly enforced too.
While sources said that the firm is generally one where people’s personal life is left at the door, “there’s a social committee that puts on regular events. We had a denim day where everyone wore denim, with a denim quiz at the end of the day. There’s also drinks trolleys with particular themes and things like that.” When it comes to training, all trainees are enrolled into Covington’s ‘trainee fundamentals’ programme, “where a lawyer from one of the various departments will come and give them an insight into the practical elements to be aware of.”
“We had a denim day where everyone wore denim, with a denim quiz at the end of the day.”
One thing that all prospective Covingtonites should be aware of is that hours at the firm aren’t for the faint-hearted. According to our survey, hours were considerably higher than the market average, and trainees reported plenty of late nights: “there will be certain weeks where you’ll work until 1 or 2am every day including weekends,” one lamented. This was balanced with the fact that the trainee salary at Covington was recently raised to £50,000 in your first year (rising to £55,000 in your second), along with a significant increase in the NQ salary to £151,000 – right at the top of the market. “If you are working ten hours a day, you can also get a £25 meal allowance,” one trainee was quick to highlight; “you also get a mobile phone allowance, which is £25 for your plan and £700 every two years for the phone itself.”
Come qualification time: “It’s based on a number of conversations between you and graduate development,” one told us, “most of which usually take place around midway through your fourth seat.” As is the case at any firm, these conversations are balanced with what the firm needs from a business perspective, before a list of available seats is circulated by HR: “At that point, all of the trainees apply to what’s available, but by this stage, it’s quite clear which seats are for whom.” The likelihood of an interview depends on the department, but the feedback from most was that interviews only take place in cases where there is competition for places. But don’t let that worry you, Covington has a good track record when it comes to retention. In 2023, the firm retained all eight qualifiers.
Surveying the scene: In our survey, Covington scored 100% on three separate metrics – efforts to recruit diverse candidates, efforts to promote diverse lawyers, and commitment to pro bono. And, with a 50-hour minimum target, “pro bono is a real point of pride for the firm.”
How to get a Covington training contract
Vacation scheme deadlines: Winter Vacation Scheme: 20 October 2023, Summer Vacation Scheme: 12 January 2024
Insight day deadline: CovInsights (first year programme) 9 February 2024
Training contract deadline: The firm recruits exclusively via its vacation schemes.
Applications and Interviews
The first step in securing a training contract at Covington is to complete an online application form, covering work experience (both legal and non-legal) and why the firm appeals to you. As a lawyer you'll need to communicate complex ideas clearly and succinctly, and this is something the firm keeps an eye out for in applications. Finally, Covington look for trainees who are well-rounded, so don’t be afraid to let your personality and passions shine throughout the application process. Successful candidates are then invited to attend an assessment centre which comprises a group exercise and an interview with two senior lawyers. Candidates will also have the opportunity to meet with some trainees on an informal basis.
Covington run two vacation schemes, a one-week scheme in the winter and a two-week scheme in the summer. Eligible applicants will be in their final year of a non-law degree or penultimate year of a law degree (although graduates and career changers are also welcome to apply). Vacation schemers spend a week sitting within a practice group, sharing an office with a senior lawyer, and are also allocated an associate mentor and trainee buddy, replicating the trainee experience from the outset. Interns complete an independent research project, a group negotiation exercise and attend a training contract interview at the end of the scheme. There's also the opportunity to attend a variety of presentations from practice groups and international offices, and there are a number of social and networking opportunities to allow students to gain a real understanding of the firm.
The CovInsights programme is aimed at first-year law students and second-year non-law students who are still researching their legal careers. This two-day interactive programme provides an insight into the firm, its practice areas, and the skills you will need to develop to become a successful lawyer. The programme is the perfect opportunity for candidates who are not yet eligible to apply for the firm's vacation schemes, and includes an introduction to the firm's key practice areas, group exercises and workshops, and networking opportunities. Applications are open from 7 September 2023 to 9 February 2024.
The ideal candidate
Covington requires applicants to have strong grades at A level and a 2:1 degree. Successful candidates are sharp, articulate, and quick thinking.
Covington & Burling LLP
EC2N 4 NQ
Covington & Burling LLP was founded in Washington, DC more than a century ago. Today, Covington has more than 1,300 lawyers and advisers across our 14 global offices. We advise clients on their most challenging and complex matters. Most of our 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.
What sets us apart is our ability to combine the tremendous strength in our litigation, investigations, and corporate practices with deep knowledge of policy and policymakers, and one of the world’s leading regulatory practices.
Our trainees tell us that they were attracted to Covington in London because we provide the responsibility and opportunity of a close-knit office, combined with the resources and prestige of a leading international firm. Above all, though, we recognise the importance of a great firm culture. At Covington you will find a firm with values of collegiality, high standards of lawyering, respect for others, a dedication to public service and a commitment to diversity, equality and inclusion. We have some of the best lawyers in the world because we understand that excellence in legal practice involves effective teamwork, clear and shared values and generosity to colleagues and clients as well as preeminent legal skills.
Our clients include technology giants Microsoft and Meta, as well as leaders in life sciences such as AstraZeneca and Oxford Biomedica. We have advised pharmaceutical manufacturers in relation to the manufacture and supply of COVID-19 vaccines, and acted for ACWA Power on the world’s most ambitious regenerative tourism project in Saudi Arabia. Additionally, we engage in cutting-edge pro bono matters, such as representing Ukraine against the Russian Federation at the ICJ.
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 & finance, tax, technology regulatory. In addition, all our lawyers are encouraged to undertake pro bono work.
Trainees complete four six-month seats.
All trainees complete a transactional and contentious seat. To ensure you get the best experience from your time, our Professional Development team will work closely with you to design a training programme that best suits your preferences (and the business needs). Trainees are able to choose two seats from five practice areas: Corporate, Dispute Resolution, Employment, Life Sciences Regulatory, Life Sciences Transactional, Project Development and Finance, and Technology Regulatory.
Client secondments are available, alongside secondments to our Brussels and Dubai offices. All trainees are supervised by two senior lawyers 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.
Our Winter and Summer Vacation Schemes are a great way for students to really learn about the firm and its people to ultimately decide if a career at Covington is for them.
Over the one week (Winter) or two week (Summer) Schemes, students have the opportunity to become integrated into the London office and gain an insight into the work of a Covington lawyer. Our vacation schemes provide an opportunity to participate in real work, group activities, and a series of presentations from across practice groups and offices. Students participate in an independent research project focusing on a practice area of interest, providing a valuable hands-on experience that will set them up for success when joining the profession. We also organise a number of social events so that students can network and get to know lawyers at the firm.
Students are eligible to apply from their penultimate year of a law degree or final year of a non-law degree. We also accept applications from students who have already completed their degrees.
Applications can be submitted here.
CovInsights (first year programme)
Our CovInsights programme is aimed at first year law students and second year non-law students who are still researching their legal careers. This two day interactive programme provides a valuable insight into the firm, its practice areas, and the skills you will need to develop to become a successful lawyer. The programme is the perfect opportunity for candidates who are not yet eligible to apply for our vacation schemes.
Applications can be submitted here.
Our mentoring programme is open to all underrepresented groups, with the aim of increasing diversity within, and access to the legal profession. The programme pairs mentees with a lawyer or trainee at the firm for the duration of the academic year. Mentees will also be offered upskilling workshops throughout the programme to start developing the skills needed to become successful lawyers.
Eligibility and application details can be found here.
Trainees have access to a full benefits package including: private medical insurance, telemedicine service, fertility benefits, dental insurance, employee assistance programme, mental wellbeing platform, eye tests, flu vaccine, group income protection scheme, group life assurance scheme, group personal pension scheme, business travel accident program, emergency back-up care services, season ticket loan.
We are pleased to be collaborating with a number of universities both locally and nationally for 2023/24 academic year. We will be participating in various fairs and events which will allow the students to network with our lawyers and the graduate recruitment team. This is a real opportunity to learn more about our firm, culture and career opportunities You can find a list of the universities career fairs we will be attending here.
Covington Insight Series
Join us for a series of exclusive virtual insight sessions, where we dive deep into the multifaceted world of Covington. Applications are open to all students from any degree discipline and in any year of their degree including graduates. details and the registration link can be found here.
At Covington, we strive to put our diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) values into action every day. We recognize that diversity enriches our culture, enhances our work with clients, and strengthens the profession. We believe that an equitable workplace requires that all colleagues have an equal opportunity to succeed. As an inclusive firm, we aim to acknowledge the daily contributions of each individual.
Covington lawyers bring a wide variety of backgrounds, perspectives, and life experiences to our practice. The firm emphasizes DEI principles in its recruitment, retention, development, and promotion practices. We are intentional, deliberate, and focused on what we want to achieve – a diverse, equitable, and inclusive firm.
Covington’s culture is underpinned by its single-tier equity partnership, a compensation system without origination or billing credits, and an expectation of senior leaders to create opportunities for junior colleagues. As a result, we are actively supporting the growth of a new and increasingly diverse generation of leaders.
Our DEI focus is on our talent, our clients, and our marketplace. The firm has implemented a comprehensive DEI approach that includes 1) leadership commitment that ensures this is a priority for the firm, 2) a strategic action plan with goals to guide our efforts, and 3) a team of dedicated DEI professionals who ensure we make progress every day.
Our Management Committee (MC) is intentional in ensuring that Covington’s leadership reflect the diversity of our firm. The eight-person MC includes four women, two of whom are Black women.
We hold partners accountable for their role and responsibility in fostering a diverse, equitable, and inclusive work environment. We recently implemented the following firm-wide DEI initiatives and programs:
• Signed the Leadership Council on Legal Diversity’s “Leaders at the Front Diversity” Initiative, which is designed to dismantle systemic barriers for underrepresented lawyers
• Expanded our DEI learning, including Unconscious Bias training, to help improve colleagues’ DEI literacy and to ensure the learning is embedded into their day-to-day roles
• Built and piloted our Inclusive Leader Program, tailored to our culture and supporting our leaders in both formal or informal roles.
• Launched our DEI Billable Hours Credit policy, enabling associates and counsel to include up to 50 hours of DEI-related activities toward bonus eligibility
• Partnered with several clients to establish mentorship programs, which pair Covington lawyers with in-house counsel and empower them to gain valuable insight on the legal profession that they can directly apply in their careers
• Invited new associates from across the firm to an in-person integration seminar in Washington, D.C., featuring external speakers who discussed the fundamentals of inclusion, as well as several workshops that helped attendees gain valuable skills that will set them up for success
• Hosted the inaugural Covington Connected Lawyers Diversity Summit in Washington, D.C. in September 2022. The event brought together 270+ lawyers of color and lawyers who identify as LGBTQ+ from our global offices to re-affirm existing bonds and cultivate new ones, while engaging in candid conversations and reflecting on their experiences at Covington.
The firm is committed to meeting our colleagues where they are to recognize their contributions and support their wellbeing. We sponsor seven firm-wide affinity groups: Asian Pacific Islander (API), Black, Latino, LGBTQ+, Middle Eastern and North African (MENA), Veterans, and a Women’s Forum. These groups are important elements of our DEI efforts, as they contribute to fostering connections and mentorship among members, facilitating professional development opportunities, and promoting firm-wide education and awareness of the experiences of women and underrepresented individuals. Over the past year, we also formalized several interest groups, including CovFamily, Social Mobility, and Disability & Wellness. We partner with these groups to champion the integration of policies to support the needs of the various communities represented at the firm, contributing to our efforts to foster an inclusive workplace and promote retention.
Covington is proud to receive external recognition for our diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts:
• Named a Top Performer in Microsoft’s UK Law Firm Diversity Program, recognizing our efforts to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion within the firm
• One of four Firms to achieve both U.S. and UK “Gold Standard Certification” for the past three years by the Women in Law Empowerment Forum (WILEF)
• Named by Law.com International to the top ten of its inaugural 2022 UK “A-List” ranking
• Ranked first in Law360’s Inaugural Pulse Leaderboard
• Achieved a perfect score of 100 on the Human Rights Campaign’s “Corporate Equality Index Survey” for 14 consecutive years
• Certified by Diversity Lab every year since 2018
• Named to Seramount’s “Best Law Firms for Women” list for the past two years.
• Ranked 4th for minority partners and a “Top Firms for Women Equity Partners” for firms with more than 600 lawyers by Law360
• Named as the Outstanding Veterans Program at the Chambers Diversity & Inclusion Awards: North America 2022
• Recognized as a Leadership Council on Legal Diversity (LCLD)Top Performer every year since 2020 and a Compass Award winner in 2021 and 2022
• Ranked among The American Lawyer’s 2021 A-List of 20 elite U.S. law firms based on financial performance, pro bono activity, associate satisfaction, and diversity.
We have instituted all the elements of a strong DEI program - the infrastructure, the events, the learning programs, and sustained communications about DEI. While we are proud of our progress, we know there is still much more to do, both as a firm and an industry. We will shape our future through forward-looking initiatives and inclusive policies tailored to advancing the firm’s culture and celebrating the diversity of our colleagues, while ensuring we provide equitable opportunities to everyone.
Learn more at Cov.com/DEI.
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2023
- Commercial and Corporate Litigation (Band 4)
- Competition Law (Band 6)
- Corporate/M&A: £100-800 million (Band 4)
- Data Protection & Information Law (Band 2)
- Fraud: Civil (Band 4)
- Life Sciences: Regulatory (Band 1)
- Life Sciences: Transactional (Band 1)
- Parliamentary & Public Affairs: Public Affairs (Band 1)
- Private Equity: Venture Capital Investment (Band 3)
- Product Liability: Food (Band 2)
- Projects (Band 3)
- Sanctions (Band 3)