Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP - True Picture

There’s no Polking fun at this New York institution, which trainees say “teaches you to step out of your comfort zone!”

Davis Polk training contract review 2024

The Firm  

Meet Davis Polk, one of the Big Apple’s finest finance exports. “When you come to Davis Polk, you’re aware that it is very focused,” said one of the current crop of trainees. “I specifically wanted a corporate finance focus.” If that’s an interest that you share, you're in the right place. Capital markets, M&A and finance are all central practices at Davis Polk, but the firm also has specialist groups in tax, executive compensation, financial regulation and antitrust. “We’ve recruited two antitrust and competition partners from A&O, including their former global co-head, to help grow our practice and open an office in Brussels,” highlights training principal Dan Hirschovits. The Brussels office opened earlier in 2023.

Davis Polk opened in London in 1973, so it’s no newcomer to the Big Smoke. Today it houses around 65 lawyers, making it much more modest in size compared to the New York mothership. It’s also worth noting that the firm’s English law practice was only established in 2012. As a result, the London team is closely tied to the US, which appealed to our interviewees. “I was fascinated with having a US workflow,” one trainee shared. “The firm sets the right balance between the US and the UK nexus.” In Chambers UK, Davis Polk stands out in London in capital markets (both debt and equity). It also gets praise for its corporate/M&A practice, which handles deals well in the hundreds of millions and often billions of pounds.

“Everybody knows you and what work you’re doing.”

Trainees we spoke with were understandably impressed by the firm’s big shiny deals, but they were also drawn to the pocket-sized intake. Historically, the firm has taken on just four trainees a year, meaning “everybody knows you and what work you’re doing. The partners know me by name!” A set-up like this doesn’t work for every personality, but it certainly appealed to this lot, who “liked the idea of a close cohort.”

The firm takes on a cohort of six each year. “We do spend quite a bit of time through the vac scheme thinking not just about the individual, but also about how prospective trainees will gel as a group,” says Hirschovits. “It’s really important that you find a group that is going to have each other’s backs.” This is important because, as our interviewees pointed out, “Davis Polk has very lean deal teams” – another selling point. “It teaches you to step out of your comfort zone!”

The Seats  

Most trainees sit in the corporate and finance seats at least once – “it’s quite common for people to do two seats in each.” Throughout the training contract, trainees meet with the training principal to “explain what you want to get out of your seats, and they can make suggestions. Normally everyone manages to go where they want to.” And everyone is guaranteed a six-month stint in New York: “Once you have an eye on where you want to qualify, you move out to foster the relationship with the New York associates.”

Davis Polk’s largest department, corporate,allows trainees to work across public and private M&A, private equity, and capital markets (debt and equity). How much trainees will do of each type of work usually depends on what their supervisor is working on. Trainees are “trusted with project management and encouraged to engage with clients, often cross-jurisdictionally.” The firm regularly works with international companies, private equity firms, investment banks, and well-known brands like Made.com and Ocado. “You also get the freedom to connect with in-house counsel and paralegals, which is quite enjoyable!” There was some drafting experience up for grabs in this seat, but trainees told us that due diligence was their primary responsibility. “You’re trusted to lead it and help with the first stage of deals,” one outlined. On M&A deals, the firm represents both buyers and sellers. Some of the highlight deals for the firm this year included acting for Brookfield, a private equity company, on its role in the gigantic $16 billion acquisition of media company Nielsen. In the energy sector, it advised Maersk Drilling on its $3.5 billion merger with Noble Corporation, while a mega tech deal saw the team advise Viva Wallet on an acquisition by JP Morgan of an ownership stake in the company.

“… checking if there are red flags that need to be raised on the transaction.”

Over in the finance group, trainees found “a lot more opportunities for drafting.” Other “typical tasks are preparing articles of association, and checking if there are red flags that need to be raised on the transaction.” These include financing deals and credit agreements – often based out of New York – and complex acquisition financings, like high-yield debt. Major banks like Citigroup and Credit Suisse are on the books, along with household names like Ford and Sky to name a couple. On the borrower side, the team acted for SS&C Technologies on a $1.68 billion loan for its acquisition of software company Blue Prism. The team is a fair bit smaller than corporate, housing one partner, one of counsel, two associates and two trainees. As a result, newbies are given plenty of responsibility early on, coordinating with opposing counsel and liaising with the New York team. They were also expected to guide “client communication and make sure emails are concise and clear – it’s something you need in both corporate and finance, but there are hints of difference you learn across those.”

The antitrust  team works closely with the M&A group, assisting with merger control filings. “We’re making sure companies don’t break laws about collusion,” one explained. “I think we’re doing something related to the cartels too, so that’s quite different!” Along with merger control and cartel defence, the team acts for clients under investigation or facing litigation in the English and European courts, and advises on compliance. It recently represented ad company Taboola on a 30-year exclusive commercial agreement with Yahoo, and pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk on the competition aspects of its $1.1 billion acquisition of Forma Therapeutics. Trainees help with running filing analysis and research tasks, but there was one common thread that stood out as a highlight: “Within the first week or so I’d already emailed a client! So that distinguishes the seat – they place a lot of trust in you to do a good job.” Of course, coming face-to-face with clients from the outside can definitely feel “quite scary at first, but it’s a good way to learn quickly.” The trainees stressed that “the support is always there – they don’t chuck you in until you’re ready.”

A seat with the taxteam tends to be “a little more on the academic side; there are a lot of research tasks, and checking things with more senior associates.” The seat is often split with another, like financial regulatory. On the pure tax side, trainees get the chance to work on deals with lots of well-known names, including Lloyds, Comcast, NatWest, Astrazeneca, Goldman Sachs, UBS, and Ferrero – very nice! This team advised on the tax aspects of Gilead Science’s $405 million acquisition of MiroBio, a biotech company in Oxford.

Trainee Life  

Trainees had a lot of love for Davis Polk’s London office (situated five minutes from Moorgate). Featuring a retro games station and a secret bookshelf door that leads into a café, we’re not surprised! It’s a good job they liked it so much, because trainees are expected to be in Monday to Thursday. Training principal Dan Hirschovits says those four days are crucial: “You learn from being around more senior lawyers, collaborating in the same workspace. For a job like ours it’s important for a productive and successful long-term career.” As such, Davis Polk also requires more senior lawyers to be in, which insiders appreciated “because most of what you learn is from the senior lawyers.” Fridays are optional on paper, but “sometimes you’ll be on a deal team with people who prefer being in the office” every day of the week.

Trainees usually sit with their supervisor or a senior associate to help with their development. In the run-up to mid- and end-of-seat reviews, “they track your progress on things like attention to detail, legal research, and inspiring confidence in our clients,” an insider explained, “then they’ll hand it over to the training principal, who’ll ask how you’re feeling about things and where you need more exposure.”

These reviews feed into the qualification decision. From the outset, newbies need to keep an eye out for where they hope to qualify. “You have these conversations throughout,” one trainee explained, so “while there is a formal application, it’s really just confirming what you’ve told them over your contract.” In 2023, Davis Polk retained all four qualifiers.

On qualification, the salary skyrockets to £165,000. “It kind of blows your mind,” one dazed hopeful commented. How does that translate into hours? In corporate, “I had late nights in the office, towards closing or signing. Then you could go into a lull where you’re leaving the office at 6pm. When you’re in the thick of it, you need to remember there’s going to be a lull!” It was a bit more consistent in finance, where trainees “work to 7pm every day pretty much.”

“We’re starting up a band! It’s a little rag-tag at the moment…”

It isn’t all work, work, work however, as these trainees made sure to have informal gatherings alongside the firm’s annual seasonal parties. “We catch up on weekends,” said trainees, whether that was “going for a meal or drinks.” The firm also promotes socialising a little through the week with Tea and Cake Tuesdays (“at 3pm they’ll order cakes from different places to the kitchen”) and Thirsty Thursdays(“if your work is a little quieter, you’ll meet up for drinks outside the office”).The more musically inclined of you might also be interested to hear that “we’re starting up a band! It’s a little rag-tag at the moment – very early stages – but it’s a good opportunity to come together outside of work!” Perhaps it’s time to dust off your old recorder and get practising…

One group that is a little more established, and which garnered a lot of praise from participants, was the firm’s women’s affinity group, DP Women. “We’re quite active,” one newbie told us, with another explaining, “we meet for lunch once a month and have an active discussion where everyone is involved. We also hold events where we host guest speakers – we had one about mental fitness which was very interesting, about what your stress triggers are and how to deal with those.” Trainees also praised the firm’s wine-tasting event with female clients: “It was very good for networking and building up relationships outside of the firm.”

Polka dots

The firm has ten offices around the world.

How to get a training contract at Davis Polk 

  • Vacation scheme deadline (2024): 6 January 2024 (opens 1 December 2023)
  • Apply for training programme via vac scheme 

Initial applications 

Davis Polk fills its trainee intake solely from those law students who attend its vac scheme. Training principal Dan Hirschovits explains: “Our process is clear – applicants write a brief cover letter to tell us who they are, why they’re studying law, conveying why they want to pursue a career focused on corporate finance law.” Hirschovits stresses that applicants must state why, “specifically,” they have chosen Davis Polk. “Trainees who join us want and are looking for early responsibility,” so through their application they must show that “they’re self-starters who are motivated to get stuck in, and they’re thoughtful, showing an interest in the law and its interaction with corporate finance.”

Alongside the brief cover letter applicants to the vac scheme submit a short CV detailing their academic grades, including a breakdown of their results and their experience, “whether that’s legal or not.” The firm underscores the importance of the latter point; Davis Polk does not expect all students who apply for a vacation scheme to have already gained experience – one of the reasons for attending a vacation scheme is to gain such experience. The strongest applicants at this stage outline their commitment to a legal career, their thought process for choosing an international law firm, and their personal attributes that might assist them in a career as a lawyer. Hirschovits adds that on this point, “for the trainees we recruit we are looking for smart, engaging and enthusiastic team players…”

The interview 

Successful applicants are invited to interview to try and snag a place on the vac scheme, spending around two hours interviewing in total. The first two half-hour interviews are conducted in one-on-ones with two different partners, and these focus on the applicant's CV and cover letter. “We’re testing candidates’ motivations for a career at a firm like Davis Polk, their ability to think on the spot, and be prepared to talk about a corporate transaction,” Hirschovits explains; “it’s about paying attention to what’s going on in the business world, so you don’t need deep knowledge of company or finance law at that point.”

Far from it being a one-sided interrogation, candidates are also encouraged to ask questions of their own throughout the interview stage. The third and final interview takes place with a current trainee and/or associate. This more informal chat gives applicants the chance to find out directly from insiders what life is like at the firm.

The vacation scheme 

The firm’s vac scheme comprises two groups of between eight and ten students per group. In June/July 2024 each group will spend one week working at the firm’s London office. Alongside 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 real trainee work. Candidates research a real-life corporate finance issue and draft a client memo and some students also get the opportunity to work on real deals.

Students also take part in a team exercise, based on the research and drafting exercise, that involves preparing in a team for and then attending a mock client meeting. Hirschovits tells us that the scheme places a lot of emphasis on group dynamics throughout the week, and the firm looks at how well trainees gel as a group; “it’s really important that you find a group that is going to have each other’s backs; we want bright people with strong academics who are ambitious, but they can’t have sharp elbows!”

Open days

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. 

Davis Polk will be hosting an open day for second-year law students and law postgraduates from 2pm on 16th November 2023; applications for this open on 1st October 2023 and close on 3rd November 2023.

First-year law students can apply for an open day which takes place on 28th March 2023; applications for this open on 1st February 2024 and close on 15th March 2024.

Hirschovits advises those with an interest in law to “do your research into the firms and target your applications thoughtfully! It’s a great, varied and stimulating career - it’s hard work but it is rewarding, and it’s a career where you constantly develop, so there’s never a point where you’re not learning new skills.”

Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP

5 Aldermanbury Square,
Website www.dpw.com

Firm profile
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, Brussels, 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 50 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, executive compensation, financial regulatory and antitrust and competition lawyers, who in addition to standalone advisory work, assist the corporate and finance teams on transactions.

Training opportunities

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, executive compensation, financial regulatory or antitrust and competition), and work in the New York or Brussels office for six months. They receive tailored training, take on real responsibility and have extensive access to partners.

Vacation schemes
Davis Polk expects to host two groups of law students on its summer vacation schemes, each for one week, from which the firm will recruit its 2026 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 2024 scheme will be considered from penultimate-year law undergraduates and law postgraduates wishing to join the training programme in September 2026. Applications will be accepted between 1 December 2024 and 7 6 January 2024. Interviews will take place in January 2024 and the firm expects to offer around 20 places for the scheme.

Open Day & Law Fairs
This autumn the firm will host an open day for second-year law students on 16 November 2023 and an open day for first-year law students on 28 March 2024 (and attend a number of in person and virtual law fairs).

For details visit https://www.davispolk.com/careers/summer-programs/training-in-london

Other benefits
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:

Diversity of backgrounds, experiences and ideas is a core value that enriches Davis Polk – enhancing their ability to provide creative solutions tailored to their clients’ most challenging business needs. The inclusive culture and commitment to equitable systems strengthens connections to each other and to clients. 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, flu vaccinations, massages, 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, 2023

Ranked Departments

    • Corporate/M&A: £800 million and above (Band 5)
    • Capital Markets: Debt (Band 4)
    • Capital Markets: Equity (Band 3)