Get a taste of the Big Apple and bite into “robust corporate finance work” with an international flavour at this New York titan’s small London office.
Whether it’s a fondness for Frank Sinatra, the joys of Broadway, or just hours spent binge-watching Sex and the City, there are many ways to fall in love with New York City; one novel way is to join international legal titan Davis Polk, which set up shop there all the way back in 1849. A training contract in the firm’s London office comes with a guaranteed secondment to the city so nice they named it twice.“You are treated as a junior associate from the get go,” as there’s no such thing as a trainee in the States; most do a corporate or finance seat on their secondment, but other options like IP can be available.
Exciting as a trip across the pond can be, it would be wrong to downplay Davis Polk’s appeal in London. Chambers UKranks the firm highly for both debt and equity capital markets, and trainees appreciated that DP is “very transaction-focused,”though seats in tax, financial regulation and antitrust are also on offer. Then there’s the money – Davis Polk boasts the highest trainee salary in the UK, paying first-years £55,000 and second-years £60,000. NQ salaries recently jumped by 13% to £135,000 – plenty of spending money for the Empire State gift shop. Looking past the big bucks, many were attracted by Davis Polk’s smaller trainee intake. With around four new arrivals each year, trainees could hardly avoid bumping into each other on trips to the coffee machine. “We have to get on, we can’t avoid each other,”one joked.
“Once in the seat there’s a lot of flexibility around the type of work you get.”
More seriously, fewer trainees typically means a less rigid training contract experience, and Davis Polk’s no exception. The seat allocation process is mostly informal, though the firm likes all trainees to do a seat in corporate, finance and one specialist department (tax, financial regulatory or antitrust). “Once in the seat there’s a lot of flexibility around the type of work you get,”we heard. It’s also common for trainees to repeat seats depending on the demand in each department.
Public and private M&A, capital markets and venture capital all make an appearance in the corporate group. Davis Polk’s US and UK corporate teams are often working in sync on transactions from the buy or sell side; major clients include investment bank Evercore, insurance service firm Charles Taylor and Comcast. The firm recently acted as lead US and UK adviser on Comcast’s £30.6 billion takeover of Sky. Trainees working on the public M&A side of the practice handled procedures including schemes of arrangement: “We advised on the sale of a public company which was then delisted. I was involved in drafting all the documents, liaising with the clients, running signings and helping out with shareholder meetings.”There’s similar responsibility on offer in private equity deals. “I was involved start to finish,”an interviewee said. “At the closing I was running the process on my own, which shows how great Davis Polk is at giving trainees responsibility. I organised all the closing documents and liaised with the solicitor on the other side.”
Interviewees with a liking for capital markets were able to take a role on initial public offerings (IPOs). “Trainees get involved in every aspect including drafting, verifying information that goes into company books, and connecting with the management team and client company,” one of our sources said. “My supervisor had come from another firm and was quite surprised with the work I was doing as a trainee.”Davis Polk is adept at both debt and equity capital markets, with a strong presence in Europe and emerging markets. A source who’d done a capital markets seat in New York told us it’s “one of the main practices there and the volume of deals is crazy. They just keep coming!”Their responsibilities included being “in the hot seat during the closing process. Once I made sure all the documents had been signed, I could then give the go-ahead to the bank to release the bonds into the market.”
“My supervisor had come from another firm and was quite surprised with the work I was doing as a trainee.”
Davis Polk’s finance group focuses on cross-border acquisition finance and public bid financing, with large banks forming the core clientele. Multinational lenders like Barclays, Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan rely on the firm’s services: a recent matter example saw clients Morgan Stanley and MUFG Bank provide a $38 billion senior unsecured bridge loan facility for American pharmaceutical company AbbVie. Trainees here worked on a mix of UK-based financings and the overseas aspects of American deals, particularly loan financings. “I was drafting a loan for a private individual; the Swiss government was involved, and all of the security was going through the UK,”a source recalled. “My job was amending the loan agreement and liaising with the bank.”Another trainee “got exposure to plenty of US-style loan documentation. As for the UK side, I was drafting the required legal research.”Conditions precedent checklists are another common task in the early going.
Trainees can do their ‘specialist seat’ in tax, financial regulationor competition(also known by the American term antitrust). The last of those spans regulatory issues on cross-border M&A transactions as well as general behavioural and compliance issues. Some of our sources worked on exciting abuse of dominance cases (where a company exploits its market-leading position to limit competition), but most spent their time on merger filings. “That’s the firm’s focus – we look at every transaction that comes to the firm and assess on a global scale where we might need to submit a filing,”trainees explained.
Also acting in an auxiliary role on private equity, M&A, capital markets and cross-border transactions, Davis Polk’s tax team takes trainees too. Here and in financial regulatory, they will often work on multiple transactions at a time, “running tax analysis and advising on what the best course of action is.”The firm advised Pfizer on tax aspects of its off-patent and generic medicines business Upjohn’s combination with global pharma company Mylan. Lloyds Bank, Citigroup and AstraZeneca are also on the books.
“There is an expectation that people will go beyond just doing the work they are given and take an actual interest,”trainees told us. This bears out in an office-wide presentation every Tuesday, where a different lawyer gives a presentation on something they’ve accomplished in their practice area. With approximately 60 lawyers split between only two floors, “the culture is very much the same in every corner.”Much of it seems to have survived a journey over the Atlantic – from trainees’ comments, you’d think the New York office was just next door. “We operate as one firm and I reach out to my colleagues in New York all the time,”they said. “We’re very much integrated.”
“There is an expectation that people will go beyond just doing the work they are given and take an actual interest.”
Of course, socialisingwith American colleagues is more difficult; Londoners are more likely to head out for spontaneous, informal dos than run big events. One exception is the biannual European lawyers’ weekend: Davis Polkers from the London, Madrid and Paris offices get together for a weekend of dinners, activities, presentations and drinks. Diversity events, including an LGBTQ quiz night and a talk on injustices faced by black women in the law, were also popular among trainees. Some also went on trips to East London schools, giving presentations and running Dragons’ Den-style exercises. Pro bono too is a Davis Polk staple: “It was really beneficial to work for real people that need your help,”sources reflected.
More manageable seats like competition come with (mostly) regular 9am to 6.30pm days: “You’re working towards regulator deadlines, so the workload is more predictable.”Corporate is a different story – “the nature of transactional work is that deals are more of a sprint than a marathon.”8pm finishes are far more common, and trainees can be in the office much later around closing time. “A lot of people say you qualify into your busiest seat, that was true for me,”one said. Qualification’s a loose affair, as interviews are only necessary if more than one trainee applies for the same position. In 2020, Davis Polk retained all four of itsqualifiers.
Fly me to the moon…
…or at least the firm’s overseas offices. As part of a firm-wide integration scheme run by Davis Polk, first, third and fifth years each jet off for their own week of activities and networking.
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How to get into Davis Polk
Vacation scheme deadline (2021): 9 January 2021 (opens 1 December 2020)
Apply for training programme via vac scheme
Davis Polk fills its trainee intake solely from those students who attend its vac scheme. London training principal Will Pearce explains: “Applicants are really sophisticated and well researched. They focus their applications on a small number of law firms and want the opportunity to check out what a firm is really like on a vacation scheme rather than relying solely on impressions formed in an interview.” For Davis Polk, “beyond having excellent academics, we’re looking for applicants who have a good understanding of what we are about and who are thoughtful about whether they think they would fit, something that is crucial in a relatively small team with a corporate finance focus. Getting to know the applicants well is really important for us.” Be aware that the application window for 2021 vac schemes (and therefore 2023 training contracts) opens on 1 December 2020 and closes on 9 January 2021.
To apply for the vac scheme, Davis Polk relies on a CV and covering letter. “We ask that you send us a short CV setting out 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! Set out the subjects you are studying in your law degree and the grades you have achieved even if you got a low mark in one of your exams.”
The covering letter should explain a candidate's reasons for studying law, why they want to work at an international firm and what attracts them to Davis Polk, but Pearce tells us: “I'm looking for someone who has done their research and understands what Davis Polk in London is about.” It pays to get specific: “It’s good to pick out a deal we've worked on which interests you. Yes, we’re a New York-headquartered firm, but a student really impresses by calling out deals the London team have worked 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 interview to try and snag a place on the vac scheme, spending around two hours at the office in total. The first and second of the three short back-to-back sessions are with partners. "We want to get to know people individually,” says Pearce. “We don't have stock questions and there might be a few curve balls thrown in, just to see how applicants react.” The partners each take questions from the applicant.
The third session is with an associate and/or a current trainee, and scales back the pressure slightly. “It's an informal chat. It's very much designed to give students an idea of the people who work here and the opportunity to ask those questions that they don’t want to ask a partner,” says Pearce.
The vacation scheme
The firm’s vac scheme comprises two groups of around ten students per group. Each group spends two weeks with the firm, with the first group starting in late June or early July and the second group starting in mid-July.
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 getting stuck into some real trainee work. “Over the summer, some practices may be a little slower, so to ensure everyone gets the same representative experience we do a case study where students research a real-life corporate finance issue and draft a client memo. It's not formally assessed 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, based on the research and drafting exercise completed in the first week, that involves preparing in a team for and then attending a mock client meeting.
Open days and Getting to Know Davis Polk sessions
The firm regularly holds open days for both first and second-year law students with presentations on the firm's recruitment process, case studies to help develop commercial awareness and hone interview skills, and end-of-day cocktails for attendees. “We want people to like us for who we are and what we do, so there is no hard sell and we talk openly about people's different career paths and opportunities. We're very happy to give constructive career advice.” Additionally, the firm have been running virtual ‘Getting to Know Davis Polk’ sessions that run for around an hour, giving the students an opportunity to learn more about the firm and interact with a partner directly.
Davis Polk & Wardwell London LLP
5 Aldermanbury Square,
- Partners 8 (Over 155 worldwide)
- Other fee-earners: Approx. 60 (Over 952 worldwide)
- Total trainees: 5
- 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: 1st December 2020
- Vacation scheme 2020 deadline: 9th January 2021
- 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: £135,000
- Holiday entitlement: 25 days
- SQE fees: Yes
- Maintenance grant pa: £10, 000
- International and regional
- Offices with training contracts: London, Hong Kong
- Overseas seats: New York
- Client secondments: Yes following qualification
Davis Polk is an elite global law firm with world-class practices across the board. Industry-leading companies and global financial institutions know they can rely on Davis Polk for their most challenging legal and business matters. The firm’s top-flight capabilities are grounded in a distinguished history of 170 years, and its global, forward-looking focus is supported by 10 offices strategically located in the world’s key financial centers and political capitals — New York, Northern California, Washington DC, São Paulo, London, Paris, Madrid, Hong Kong, Beijing and Tokyo. The firm’s lawyers collaborate seamlessly across practice groups and geographies to provide clients with exceptional service, sophisticated advice and creative, practical solutions.
Main areas of work
The London team consists of around 60 UK and US qualified lawyers. They represent corporate, private equity and investment banking clients on a wide range of capital markets, M&A and finance transactions, many of which are cross-border in nature. The team includes highly-rated tax, financial regulatory and antitrust lawyers, who in addition to standalone advisory work, assist the corporate and finance teams on transactions.
The two-year London training programme provides excellent training and a range of experiences to ensure a successful start to a career as an English law-qualified lawyer. Before joining, future trainees will receive training to help them complete the first and second stages of the SQE. Throughout the training programme that follows, trainees experience the corporate and finance practices, spend time in a specialist area of law (tax, financial regulatory or antitrust), and work in the New York office for six months. They receive tailored training, take on real responsibility and have extensive access to partners.
Davis Polk expects to host two groups of law students on its summer vacation schemes, each for two weeks, from which the firm will recruit its 2023 intake of trainees. Students will have the opportunity to work on transactions for a variety of the firm’s clients and attend information sessions focused on the work of each practice area. Students will gain first-hand experience of Davis Polk’s culture through interactions with lawyers and attendance at a number of social events. Applications for the 2021 scheme will be considered from penultimate-year law undergraduates and law postgraduates wishing to join the training programme in August 2023. Applications will be accepted between 1 December 2020 and 9 January 2021. Interviews will take place in January 2021 and the firm expects to offer around 20 places for the scheme.
Getting to Know Davis Polk Sessions & Law Fairs
This autumn the firm will run Getting to Know Davis Polk Sessions virtually (6:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. on 16 November, 24 November and 26 November 2020) and attend a number of virtual law fairs. For details visit careers.davispolk.com/training-london
The firm offers trainees employment benefits including private medical insurance, life insurance, critical illness insurance, permanent health insurance, pension scheme, season ticket loan, subsidised gym membership, Employee Assistance Programme, medical cash plan, cycle to work scheme and 25 days holiday.
Diversity, Inclusion & Wellbeing:
To Davis Polk diversity means many things – gender and ethnicity, of course, but also place of origin, language, educational background, socioeconomic status, and interests and experience outside the law. This diversity is evident in the lawyers that work in our London office.
The London office promotes a collaborative and open culture, among others, running a DPWomen affinity group and participating in the City Solicitors Horizons programme run by Sponsors for Educational Opportunity London (SEO).
The firm believes that employee wellness makes a vital difference in the workplace and are committed to helping employees achieve their best possible health through programmes and services including:
• Health checks, nutrition consultations and yoga sessions
• Workshops on financial and mindfulness topics
• Complimentary subscription to the Calm app
• Health club subsidy/fitness reimbursement
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2020
- Capital Markets: Debt (Band 4)
- Capital Markets: Equity (Band 3)
- Corporate/M&A: High-end Capability (Band 5)