Debevoise & Plimpton LLP - True Picture

Looking to “be part of a big, international law firm” alongside “lovely and incredible people” ? Try BigLaw the Debevoise way.

Debevoise training contract review 2021

The Firm

BigLaw is the US term for the legal elite. It conjures up the type of law firm the Ivy League grads set their preppy gaze on from senior prom onwards: big clients, big salaries, big towers, big hours, big office views, big bragging rights. And there’s no denying that Debevoise is a fully signed-up member of the BigLaw family. But the BigLaw family has many members, and they’re not all like the patriarchal grandfather, or the horribly competitive uncle who ruins board games; Debevoise is more like the cultured, switched-on aunt who takes you under her wing. She’s formidable and expects the very best from you, but she has a heart of gold. It’s clear Debevoise has exported its cultural brand to London. “The Debevoise type is academic, but extremely nice,” said a trainee. “The people are wonderful to work with, but make no mistake: everyone is trying to be the best and make sure the work we produce is absolutely stellar.”

“The Debevoise type is academic, but extremely nice.”

Debevoise set up shop in London just over 30 years ago, and in that time has earnt market recognition of its own. Chambers UK awards the firm impressive UK-wide rankings for its commercial arbitration, investor-state arbitration, and private equity investment funds expertise, as well as a nod to its corporate insurance know-how. In London, the firm goes toe-to-toe with the best firms for financial crime and public international law and gets recognition for commercial and corporate litigation and sponsor-side banking and finance. Many interviewees were drawn to the firm for its incline towards dispute resolution work, where most knew they “were a big name.” Beyond the work itself, trainees were also looking to be part of a smaller intake while “being part of a big international firm that does really cool work.”

The Seats

Upon arrival, trainees are given their first seat by the firm. For the subsequent seats, trainees put forward two preferences which the firm takes into account alongside seat availability. With a reasonably small intake, sources were pleased to find they got their choices most of the time. “There’s no lottery to it – you speak to fellow trainees and everyone has an idea of where other people are going next.” Debevoise also offers international secondments to Hong Kong and Moscow.

Debevoise’s M&A group is roughly split between corporate finance M&A and insurance M&A. Trainees sitting here found the work to be “super varied – I didn’t work on the same type of matter twice!” Matters stretched from public and private M&A, public-to-private transactions, some private equity work, and the occasional capital markets matter. “We’re also leaders in the emerging markets field, so there’s some of that too.” On the insurance side, sources dabbled in “a lot of sponsor-backed M&A deals, like sponsors selling portfolio companies or secondaries co-investing in projects.” The team recently acted for Hamilton Insurance Group in its acquisition of Pembroke Managing Agency and Ironshore Europe DAC from Liberty Mutual. Elsewhere, lawyers also advised private equity company Clayton, Dubilier & Rice on its acquisition of contract catering company Westbury Street Holdings for around $1 billion. Day to day, trainees were involved in “a lot of commercial and legal research,” “helping out on due diligence,” and “negotiating and drafting NDAs.” On certain deals, sources were also able to up their responsibility with “work on the main SPA” or “the first attempt at a partnership agreement.”

"I didn't work on the same type of matter twice!"

Trainees can also do a separate funds seat, where the team deals with the whole gamut of funds work: “advising on fund formation, capital-raising, and investments into private funds.” Sources got exposure to many private equity clients in particular here, and dealt with the occasional regulatory matter for them. The team recently advised LCM Capital on the formation and fundraising of its flagship fund, COPS 4 SLP, and also advised GHO Capital on the formation and fundraising of its second European healthcare fund. Sources regularly helped out on closings – “assisting in terms of trying to get all the documents together on time” – and drafted various ancillaries for transactions. Then as the seat developed, sources noted getting “more involved with the actual negotiations with investors, assisting with drafting side letters, and recording the comments and queries from investors.”

"Matters are usually very high value or have particularly complex legal issues behind them."

As for disputes seats, international arbitration is another strong point for the firm. The team sees its fair share of commercial arbitrations alongside investment treaty arbitrations. “The matters are usually very high value or have particularly complex legal issues behind them,” sources reflected. On the commercial side, the team acts for Joma Industrial Source Corporation in a multi-jurisdictional dispute relating to the ownership of interests in an oil and gas services group. On the investor-state side, they represented The Nova Group Investments against the Romanian government in an ICSID claim. Being a disputes seat, trainees were doing a lot of research here and subsequently found themselves “writing memos on complex pieces of law.” There was also a lot more “typical trainee tasks” in the vein of “proof-reading, and finalising reports and letters.”

On the white-collar team, sources were able to experience a number of investigations, as well as sanctions-related issues and some data/cybersecurity work. The team continues to advise Rolls-Royce on ongoing matters stemming from the 2017 SFO investigation, and it recently conducted investigations on behalf of Mobile Telesystems, looking into historical activities of its subsidiary in Uzbekistan. As you might imagine, the seat involved a hefty amount of due diligence in terms of “looking though companies’ documents, checking for red flags or anything dodgy, and running general background checks.” Trainees also got stuck into “research and writing updates to clients” and occasionally “preparing interview outlines and drafting parts of legal advice memos.”

The commercial litigation sees “a wide range of disputes.” These could be “complex international disputes of high value, fraud matters, shareholder disputes” or more standard contractual disputes. Recently, the team represented Russian oil supplier Tatneft as claimant in an action against four Ukrainian businessmen. Elsewhere, the team represented British American Tobacco against PricewaterhouseCoopers, alleging PwC was negligent and in breach of contract over two audits of an entity called Windward Prospects. Sources also noticed a fair bit of overlap with the firm’s international arbitration/public international law practice, as well as “helping the private equity side with disputes stuff.” Typical trainee tasks included “a lot of research on case law,” as well as “identifying commercial risks for clients.” There were a few admin-y bits like checking bundles, but sources also appreciated being brought along to meetings with clients and other firms. Although trainees were generally happy with the level of responsibility they were able to get in disputes seats, they admitted that pro bono-related litigation usually came with more responsibility.

Trainee Life

One source summed the culture up neatly: “Everyone here is putting their all into everything they do, but there’s a nice camaraderie that works alongside that.” The small trainee intake encouraged a “close-knit” environment, which led sources to believe that “they’re fairly careful with the hires they make.” Looking around the firm, multiple interviewees flagged that Debevoise has a habit of filling its ranks with “people that are ridiculously smart,” which, for trainees, made the firm “the best place to work.” Other reiterated that “everyone takes the time to teach trainees and juniors,” meaning that trainees benefited from a “learning culture where everyone wants what’s best for you.”

"It's an incredible moment as a trainee to be able to help people."

This ‘learning culture’ also extended to the firm’s approach to pro bono – in the US Debevoise is something of a trailblazer in this regard. “It’s super encouraged and we’ve always had really good pro bono managers who are keen to get people involved.” There are different opportunities available depending on whether trainees are sitting in a transactional or litigious area: transactional opportunities include “providing legal advice to businesses with a charitable side to them through UnLtd social enterprise”as well as “more discrete tasks like a few hours advising on how to set up a charity.” On the litigation side, the firm is involved in some bigger matters trainees can help out on such has “working on a project for the Centre for Reproductive Rights in Nicaragua.” Others also mentioned working on welfare benefits appeals: “You’re dealing with individuals who are really struggling. It’s an incredible moment as a trainee to be able to help people.”

“It’s not a 9-to-5 job,” we were unsurprised to hear. “Whether you’re a trainee or an NQ, it’s always going to be pretty long hours.” Most would kick things off at a standard 9.30am, and on a regular day, would finish somewhere between 7pm and 8pm. As is to be expected, this fluctuated drastically depending on the seat and what matters were on at the time. “If you’re having a slow week, you could leave at 6pm. But if a deal is on or a client requests something, you’ll probably need to work late.” This meant anything from 12-hour days to 12am finishes. Sources admitted “it’s difficult to have a social life outside the office during the week,” but caveated that they “rarely have to work weekends,” which was appreciated.

Qualification is usually a fairly informal affair at Debevoise. “Trainees are encouraged to reach out to partners in teams they’d like to be considered for and have conversations about whether or not there might be room. You then submit your choices to HR and they discuss with partners who should go where.” Sources felt the firm “really tries to keep its trainees,” but at the time of our calls the firm was not disclosing its retention rate.

Rhyme time

Debevoise may attract cultured people, but don't go pronouncing the firm's name with French panache. Debevoise rhymes with poise, noise and Backstreet Boys.

How to get a Debevoise training contract


Vac scheme application deadlines (2021): 1 October 2020 – 3 January 2021

Training contract application deadlines (2023):  October 2020 – 3 January 2021

Open day deadline (2021): 1 October 2020 – 3 January 2021

Initial application

The process kicks off with a standard online application form. This includes a few questions that are tailored to Debevoise in order to see how the candidates think, and to assess their interests and motivations. While the firm says that there is no right answer, it does pay attention to the structure of the argument and how logical the responses are.  It may sound obvious, but make sure you spell the firm's name correctly. The firm adds that while there is nothing wrong with expressing interest in one area of law, the firm are looking for well-rounded people.

Open days

For those that are successful in their initial application, the firm runs three ‘open days’ (assessment days really), usually in February and/or March, to which  around 100 candidates  are invited. The day involves an introduction from the Training Principal during a welcome breakfast, followed by a tour of the office (usually with a junior lawyer). There's also a networking lunch, followed by a short commercial assessment. Participants are given an article to read, then it’s discussed during the interview. The aim of the exercise, according to the firm, is to assess how you assimilate information and how you present and analyse it.

Vacation scheme

Around 45  successful candidates (give or take a couple) make it onto the vacation schemes. Debevoise usually runs three schemes: one in the spring and two in the summer, each lasting two weeks. However, owing to the impact of COVID-19 in 2020 the firm successfully held four one-week long virtual vacation schemes instead. This decision was not taken lightly, but the firm’s priority was to safeguard all candidates confirmed to attend, as well as their own employees.  Vacation schemers are assigned a mentor for their time at the firm, but they are also encouraged to explore other parts of the firm – “if for example their mentor is in finance  but they are interested in  arbitration  work, they are encouraged to spend time with lawyers from the International Dispute Resolution Group as well ,” Recruitment Manager Romina Tsvetkova says. “All of our vacation scheme students sit together, so that they can get the opportunity to work together as a team  while getting to know each other.” During the virtual vacation schemes this aspect was facilitated through a number of Zoom meetings.

Candidates also have a number of assessments in their two weeks. There is usually a group white collar crime exercise, as well as a pro bono written project. “The most  formal assessments are probably the interviews during the last week,” Tsvetkova reveals. These are interviews similar to the ones during the open days, plus add in a few more general questions too. The firm notes that it has a small trainee group so it's important that everyone is able to work together.

Debevoise & Plimpton LLP

65 Gresham Street,

  • Partners 24
  • Associates: 120 (number of non-partner UK and US qualified lawyers)
  • Total trainees: 18
  • UK offices: London
  • Overseas offices: 9
  • Contacts  
  • Graduate recruiter: Romina Tsvetkova
  • Training partner: Patrick Taylor
  • Application criteria 
  • Training contracts pa: 9
  • Minimum required degree grade: 2:1 or equivalent
  • Minimum UCAS points or A levels: 144 (new tariff) UCAS points or equivalent
  • Vacation scheme places pa: Around 30
  • Dates and deadlines 
  • Training contract applications open: N/A
  • Training contract deadline, 2022 start: N/A
  • Vacation scheme applications open: 1 October 2020
  • Vacation scheme 2020 deadline: 3 January 2021
  • Open day deadline: 3 January 2021
  • Salary and benefits 
  • First-year salary: £50,000 pa
  • Second-year salary: £55,000 pa
  • Post-qualification salary: £134,800 pa
  • Holiday entitlement: 22 days vacation and bank holidays
  • Sponsorship  
  • LPC fees: Yes
  • GDL fees: Yes
  • Maintenance grant pa: £9,000 during LPC and/or GDL
  • International and regional 
  • Offices with training contracts: London, Hong Kong

Website london

Firm profile
Debevoise & Plimpton is a leading international law firm with market-leading practices with offices in New York, Washington DC, London, Paris, Frankfurt, Moscow, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Luxemburg. The London office works on many of the highest profile and most complex transactions in Europe and worldwide. We do this by virtue of our English and New York law expertise and our close integration with our other offices. Our clients look to us to bring a distinctively high degree of quality, intensity and creativity to resolve legal challenges effectively and cost efficiently. The firm’s culture fosters a collaborative approach across disciplines and regions, and, as a result, clients benefit from the dedication, cohesiveness and superior quality that we bring to all of our work worldwide.

Main areas of work
In developing our practice in London, we have sought to replicate the core strengths of our practice worldwide. Our focus is on private equity, insurance, international disputes and investigations, financial institutions, M&A, finance, capital markets and tax.

Training opportunities
One of Debevoise’s basic principles is that each of our associates should become a ‘well rounded’ lawyer – an effective counsellor, advisor, and advocate – who can combine specific legal knowledge with the ability to deal with a broad range of situations. We believe that lawyers best develop their skills through a combination of formal training and on-the-job experience, in a respectful and collegial environment. The two years are split into four six-month seats and trainees have the opportunity to gain experience in at least three distinct areas of law with a mandatory seat in litigation/arbitration. Trainees may also have the opportunity to spend time in the Hong Kong and Moscow offices.

Vacation scheme
Debevoise offers two-week vacation schemes which run in the spring and summer each year. We look for students whose personal qualities, academic records and other achievements demonstrate exceptional ability, motivation and potential for growth. The vacation scheme is open to both law and non-law graduates. We are looking for individuals who have consistently high levels of achievements both at A level (or equivalent) and at university. Applicants should be expected to achieve a 2:1 in any degree discipline and have a minimum of 144 (new tariff) UCAS points at A level (or equivalent). Apply online between 1 October 2020 and 3 January 2021 for spring and summer vacation schemes in 2021, . An online application form will be available on our website during these times. Anyone interested in a training contract with Debevoise should apply for a place on our open days which act as a gateway to our vacation schemes . We hire all of our Trainees from the vacation scheme. Vacation scheme students are paid £500 per week.

Other benefits
• Private health care (medical, dental, and private GP)
• Life and Income Protection Insurance
• Employee Assistance Programme
• Group personal pension plan
• 22 days vacation
• Cycle to work scheme
• On-site subsidised café
• Interest free season ticket loan
• Discretionary qualification leave on completion of your training contract

Open days and first-year opportunities
The firm holds open days to recruit for the vacation schemes, normally in February or March. Around 90 can¬didates will be invited to attend. On the day, candidates will meet the graduate recruitment team, will spend time with a mentor and will participate in an informal networking lunch attended by trainees, associates and partners. There will also be a commercial assessment. The day is intended as much for candidates to get to know the firm as the other way around.

This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2020

Ranked Departments

    • Banking & Finance: Sponsors (Band 4)
    • Commercial and Corporate Litigation (Band 3)
    • Financial Crime: Corporates (Band 1)
    • Litigation (Band 5)
    • Public International Law (Band 1)
    • Tax (Band 6)
    • Construction: International Arbitration (Band 3)
    • Insurance: Non-contentious (Band 3)
    • International Arbitration: Commercial Arbitration (Band 2)
    • International Arbitration: Investor-State Arbitration (Band 2)
    • Investment Funds: Private Equity (Band 2)