Relatively fresh to the world of London training contracts, and still a small office, this US transactional powerhouse has “a bank of clients to work with... no pun intended.”
The iceberg illusion
Picture an iceberg. You see the gleaming peak, but its majesty comes from the knowledge of the heft which lies beneath. New York-born Davis Polk is a bit like that. With one thousand lawyers shared across ten offices worldwide, the firm is recognised as an expert in cross-border transactions. And in keeping with our analogy, the relatively tiny London office shines bright, while its Chambers UK-ranked debt and equity capital markets work hints that it's part of something far bigger. The firm kick-started its English law practice less than a decade ago, only beginning training contracts in 2014. It's now home to a huddle of juniors hungry for a serving of corporate, securities and finance work. Clients like Goldman Sachs, HSBC and Barclays line up to provide exactly that.
Trainees basked in the firm's internationalism: “We're not overly reliant upon any particular industry or jurisdiction for our work. That's a benefit of being in a US-headquartered firm in London.” Will Pearce, the London training partner, comments: “We've got people here from many different backgrounds, reflecting the nature of the work we do.” He says the firm is sticking to a strategy “as simple as wanting to be counsel of choice for complex cross-border transactions” and suggests that Davis Polk “takes a very different approach to other US firms in London: we're very much about organic growth.”
New arrivals were clear about Davis Polk's appeal: “You're not just one of a hundred trainees, it's a far more personalised experience.” The firm is mindful of hierarchical tendencies, with Pearce telling us: “We think of people as individuals, rather than by reference to titles, so it's a great environment for trainees who are self-starters.” And our interviewees were exactly that, telling us: “I wanted to gain early exposure to leading transactional work in a place where I'd have access to more senior people.” Furthermore, “there's a good balance so that support is there whenever I need it, but I'm not controlled and I am given the chance and space to do my work.”
There's less space for trainees to choose where they'll sit. “You don't feel like you're in competition with everyone else because you know what seats you're going to be doing. You're doing credit, corporate, a seat in NYC if you'd like, and then potentially a specialist seat – either in financial regulatory, antitrust or tax.” Trainees have no say on the first seat, but from then on, trainees have a mid-seat catch-up with the training principal to discuss their preferences on the order of their seats. The New York seat is both popular, and “open to everyone.” Trainees are also required to complete a two-week litigation programme to supplement the lack of contentious seats.
The corporate seat provides a plethora of transactions to get involved with, spanning M&A, capital markets and venture capital work. The team has particular expertise in the financial services and technology sectors, with clients including J.P. Morgan, Morgan Stanley and software company Temenos. The team recently advised Brazilian beauty manufacturer Natura Cosméticos on its €1 billion acquisition of The Body Shop from L’Oréal. Rubbing shoulders with the New York office, the London team also advised Centerview Partners, Deutsche Bank and UBS in relation to British American Tobacco's $54 billion merger with Reynolds American. Unsurprisingly, the seat was described as “quite intense,” with tasks including drafting corporate documents, verification and board minutes. The seat can be “quite due-diligence heavy, but it's good to have real input into the work product. It's nice that you're not just trawling through documents – you're actually having an impact on the final report.” But capital markets is where the firm excels in London, both in debt and equity. The numbers are staggering. It advised Lloyds Bank on its $4 billion note offering, BMW on note offerings totalling $2.2 billion, and pharma giant AstraZeneca on its $2 billion offering.
“I'd wake up to emails from places like Malaysia and Singapore.”
Over in the credit practice – which is “just a Davis Polk word for banking and finance” – the team is best known for its ability to help with the financing of international acquisitions. A notable example had the firm sorting the $725 million financing of private equity firm Roark Capital Group's acquisition of UK-headquartered International Car Wash Group. Trainees reported there being “a lot of underlying ancillary and security documents you've got to keep on top of.” One source had “an attempt at drafting certain parts of a facility agreement,” while another recounted that “I'd be liaising with local counsel on transactions that involved up to ten different countries at a time. I'd wake up to emails from places like Malaysia and Singapore, and end the day with emails to Chile and Brazil.”
Trainees could also land in the regulatory and antitrust department, where they got exposure to both. “It's massively different on the regulatory side,” one trainee shared. Tasks included “producing notes on sanctions and anti-corruption laws, and helping prepare 'change in control' applications that are submitted to the FCA.” On the competition side, one insider reported “working on US and non-US antitrust filings,” as well as “doing one-off queries for clients that are completely independent of the rest of the office, relating to new regulation, for example.”
Silver linings playbook
Those who'd tasted life in the Big Apple reported that “the capital markets seat in New York was great fun. You're in a pretty big team where you're treated as a junior associate, and the transaction timetable is often very accelerated compared with London.” One source recalled being told “'here's the credit agreement, have a look at the condition precedent, draft the ancillary documents and let me know if you have any questions – we'll be closing this in a few weeks.' It's both daunting and rewarding.”
Late nights are a reality at any US firm, but insiders weren't concerned by the commitment: “You know what you're signing up to, and the deals are exciting.” Most newbies reported arriving at 9.30am and leaving around 8.30pm on an average day. However, the workload is “unpredictable, with later nights stretching past 3am.” One source recalled how “when I started my seat, I had a month of finishing at 5.30pm every day. Then there were a few solid weeks where I rarely got out before midnight.” Regardless, sources saw silver linings everywhere: “When weekend work does happen, people are very grateful that you've pitched in.” We'd say that goes some way to illustrating the mindset candidates need. “At points it can be stressful, but it's rewarding and worth it.”
“I'd never seen so many intelligent people in such a small space before.”
Residing in the plush offices of 5 Aldermanbury Square near Moorgate, our insiders encouraged us to “think glass and chrome, not old school walnut.” One insider recalled their first impressions: “The thing I definitely noticed when I first started was that I'd never seen so many intelligent people in such a small space before.” In addition to the firm's abundance of brainpower, our interviewees were keen to highlight that “trainees are very keen to help each other,” and “partners are very easy to get along with too. There are no raised voices.” Newbies are encouraged to get involved in charity initiatives: one trainee worked on supporting women's rights, another “helped school students with interview training in association with the East London Business Alliance.”
“We don't have a wild social life,” one source admitted, “but we don't take ourselves too seriously either. We have a good drink on a Friday.” It tends to go down at the conveniently located “Davy's bar – that's the classic choice.” Other interviewees paid homage to the “monthly firm-wide lunch in the office. They lay out a nice spread of food from our Italian favourite, Manicomio.” There's also a Christmas and summer party, with the latter usually hosted at the swanky Devonshire Terrace – “it often ends up at the Sushi Samba cocktail bar!” Other spontaneous outings arise “if a deal has recently closed. The partner will often use it as an excuse to go out for a couple.” Qualification rests on a series of conversations with the training principal – “If two people applied to one role, then it would become more formal.” In 2018, the firm did not disclose its retention rate.
Within Davis Polk's trainee ranks you'll also find overseas-qualified lawyers who have been sponsored to complete their QLTS during their training contract.
Vacation scheme deadline (2019): 13 January 2019 (opens 1 December 2018)
Apply for training contract via vac scheme
Davis Polk fills its new trainee intake solely from those who've attend one of its two summer vac schemes. London training principal Will Pearce explains: “The feedback we’ve received from applicants is that they are applying for a smaller, more focused group of law firms and that they want the chance to check out what a firm is really like in a vacation scheme over a two-week period rather than just in an interview over a couple of hours.” Furthermore, “beyond having excellent academics, fit is crucial in a small office. Getting to know the candidates well is as important for us as it is for the applicants themselves.” Be aware that the application window for 2019 vac schemes (and therefore 2021 training contracts) opens on 1 December 2018 and closes on 13 January 2019.
To apply for the vac scheme, Davis Polk sticks with the tried and tested CV and covering letter. “We ask that you give us a CV, breaking down your grades, work experience and those extracurricular activities you think are relevant,” says Pearce. “I'd say less is more – but don't try and hide anything! Even if you got a low mark in one of your exams.”
The covering letter should explain a candidate's reasons for studying the law, why they want to study at an international firm, what attracts them to Davis Polk and why they are suited to it, but Pearce tells us: “I'm looking for someone thoughtful who has done their research and someone who understands what Davis Polk is about.” It pays to get specific: “It’s good to pick out a deal we've worked on which interests you. We're unashamedly a New York-headquartered firm, but a student really impresses by drilling down and saying what people in London have been working on. It shows that they've taken the time to think about the firm and what they’d be working on as a trainee, rather than regurgitating our careers website.”
Successful applicants are invited to two interviews to try and snag a place on the vac scheme, spending around two hours at the office in total. The first of the two interviews is with a couple of partners, but first applicants are given half an hour to read a briefing note for a fictional transaction. “In the first half of the interview we want to know about the individual,” says Pearce. “We don't have stock questions and there might be a few left field things, just to see how candidates react.” The second half focuses on the fictional transaction and briefing note, and is “essentially a commercial awareness test,” looking at “what you would be doing as a lawyer.” The partners then take questions from the candidate.
The second interview is with an associate and a current trainee, and scales back the pressure slightly. “It's an informal chat. It's very much to give the candidate an idea of the people who work here,” says Pearce.
The vacation scheme
The firm runs two vac schemes; each lasts for two weeks with one starting in late June and the other starting in mid-July. Each scheme takes roughly ten candidates, but that's not written in stone. “If we have 16 superstars, we'll do two schemes of eight; if we have 26, we'll make it work somehow, rather than saying we don't have enough places.”
Aside from a variety of social events with partners and associates, students will spend time learning about each of the London office’s practice areas and get stuck into some real trainee work. “Over the summer, some practices might be a little slower, so to give a more representative experience we do a case study where students do research and draft a client memo. It's not formally marked because some students might be working on real deals and so have less time to complete it.” In the second week, students take part in a team exercise where they prepare and carry out a mock client meeting.
The firm holds open days for both first and second-year students where it gives talks about the firm's recruitment process, goes through case studies to practice interview skills and puts on drinks for attendees. “We want people to like us for who we are and what we do, so we'll talk on open days about people's different career opportunities. We're very happy to give constructive career advice.”
Davis Polk & Wardwell London LLP
5 Aldermanbury Square,
- Partners 8 (over 140 worldwide)
- Other fee earners Over 40 (over 750 worldwide)
- Total trainees 7
- UK offices London
- Overseas offices 9
- Graduate recruiter: Emily Lawrence, [email protected]
- Training partner: Will Pearce, [email protected]
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 4
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1 or higher
- Vacation scheme places pa: Approx 20
- Dates and deadlines
- Vacation scheme applications open: 1 December 2018
- Vacation scheme 20198 deadline: 13 January 2019
- Davis Polk recruits trainees directly from the vacation schemes.
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £55,000
- Second-year salary: £60,000
- Post-qualification salary: £120,000
- Holiday entitlement: 25 days
- LPC fees: Yes
- GDL fees: Yes
- Maintenance grant pa: Yes
- International and regional
- Offices with training contracts: London, Hong Kong
- Overseas seats: New York
- Client secondments: Yes
Main areas of work
Davis Polk trainees will work closely with and learn from our senior lawyers in London and in our offices around the world. Our training partner mentors each trainee and provides advice and guidance throughout the programme. Given the quality of instruction, the meaningful legal experience gained on major transactions and the opportunity to be a part of a dynamic practice at one of the world’s truly preeminent law firms, there is no better place than Davis Polk for an aspiring solicitor to begin a career. Davis Polk trainees will also have the opportunity to experience a six month secondment to our New York office.
During each vacation scheme, students will have the opportunity to work on major transactions for a variety of the firm’s clients and attend information sessions focused on the work of each of our practice areas. Students will gain first-hand experience of Davis Polk’s culture through interactions with our lawyers and attendance at a number of social events.
We will be accepting applications for 2019 summer vacation schemes (please visit our website at www.careers.davispolk.com/training-london for information on how to apply) from 1st December 2018 through to 13th January 2019. We expect to offer approximately 20 places on vacation schemes in 2019.
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2018
- Capital Markets: Debt (Band 3)
- Capital Markets: Equity (Band 2)