Take a bite out of the Big Apple (and beyond) from Debevoise's London office.
Debevoise training contract review 2024
There’s a whole host of great things to have come out of New York. In fact, whether it’s bagels, cheesecake or disputes specialists Debevoise & Plimpton, we Brits have welcomed the good stuff with open arms. But while the firm started life in New York, it’s certainly spread its wings in the time since, growing to nine offices across three continents. The London office is Debevoise’s second biggest, and around 30% of the lawyers in London are US-qualified. What’s more, with offices in Paris, Frankfurt, Luxembourg, Hong Kong and Shanghai (alongside New York, Washington DC and San Francisco across the pond), there’s something to the firm’s claim that it brings a ‘distinctly international feel’ to the legal market in London.
"You’re able to work across the disputes disciplines."
Debevoise’s London contingent have paid particular attention to practice areas like private equity, insurance, M&A, finance, capital markets and tax in recent years, but there’s no doubt that it’s the contentious side of things where the firm has the biggest reputation. The firm bags impressive Chambers UKrankings in international arbitration covering construction, investor-state and commercial arbitration, alongside a strong commercial and corporate litigation ranking in London. There’s also nods for financial crime in London and public international law nationally.
New starters at Debevoise have their first seat assigned to them, but the firm assigns these seats with a trainee's preferences in mind. Three months before trainees start their second seat, HR will reach out to them to get their top three preferences, which are accommodated as much as possible: “The firm tries to make sure everyone does at least one of the four disputes seats,” one source told us (which are white-collar crime, international arbitration, the International Dispute Resolution Group (IDRG), and commercial litigation). Debevoise has also just re-started a Hong Kong secondment, “which is going to be one trainee in a general seat, touching on both disputes and transactional work.”
Debevoise’s disputes work is grouped under a broad litigation team, which covers the spectrum of disputes disciplines. As you might imagine, commercial litigation makes up the largest slice of the pie, which revolves around contentious work in areas like employment, insurance, M&A, securities and antitrust. Trainees in the seat tend to concentrate on a smaller number of cases, each for a longer stint: “There were just two or three matters that I was working on,” one trainee told us, “but they gave us the opportunity to use a bit more of what we learned in law school – reading cases, doing research and making research notes.” In one recent case, the firm represented Petro Poroshenko, the fifth President of Ukraine, in his victory in the High Court concerning a $250+ million conspiracy claim. It’s worth noting however that while trainees under the international dispute resolution & investigations banner will quite likely sit in one primary practice group, it’s not a hard-and-fast rule. “I’ve done some arbitrations work and some public international law, so you’re able to work across the disputes disciplines,” one noted.
Arbitrationis another of the practices that fall into this category. While there’s a good chance you’ll get some exposure to cross-border work in practices like commercial litigation, there’s no doubt that it’s in arbitration that trainees will see the most. In fact, the firm is quick to highlight that with arbitration colleagues working in ten offices across three continents, there’s a fair spread of expertise in areas like public international law and international commercial and treaty arbitration. In one recent case, the firm represented the Republic of Azerbaijan in its dispute with the Republic of Armenia in the International Court of Justice, with claims of ethnic cleansing arising in the aftermath of the Second Karabakh War in 2020. In high-profile cases like this, trainees were realistic about the level of responsibility, but it’s all useful learning experiences: “There was plenty of research on things like maritime law and maritime disputes under treaty law, and doing cite checkings on submissions.”
“It’s a new skill for people that are just starting out, so it’s a good way to introduce you to the job.”
With all of the disputes practices set out on the eighth floor of 65 Gresham Street, the transactional work at Debevoise is all housed on the seventh floor: “They are very separate,” one trainee commented, “in some ways it feels like two completely different firms!” One of the biggest departments down on the seventh floor is finance, which has a particularly strong focus on leveraged finance and fund finance work. “The finance practice shares a lot of its clients with the funds team,” another trainee explained, “so the majority of the work revolves around acting for private funds to put in place various fund financing facilities.” As a trainee in the seat, “you don’t have the in-depth legal background, so your job is to do everything associated with managing and pushing along a transaction.” But trainees were unanimous that this project management element was a plus: “It’s a new skill for people that are just starting out, so it’s a good way to introduce you to the job.” Aside from funds clients like Bridgepoint Private Equity, Debevoise’s finance client list includes names such as Pret a Manger and Morrisons Supermarkets.
As a group that works closely with the finance team, funds forms a big part of life on the seventh floor. Here again, “we tend to be representing the fund rather than the investor, so there’s a lot of negotiations with investors looking to get involved in these really interesting emerging markets funds,” one source told us. A lot of the firm’s work in the space is concentrated on fund formation, but a number of the firm’s funds clients are relatively newly established, so there’s a lot of work providing European and US tax and regulatory advice too. On the fund formation side of things: “It’s a similar size team to finance, so follows quite a similar work pattern,” one explained, “and that means keeping track of a lot of documents!” But, with trainees in the seat likely to experience a bit of both, the regulatory side of the coin “is much less project management-focused and more research-focused. As a trainee, you can also take a stab at investors’ requests for what changes they want to make to a document before they sign up and things like that.” In one recent fund formation, the firm represented Fifth Wall in its Early-Stage Climate Technology Fund, formed to invest in climate change mitigation technologies aiming to decarbonise the real estate industry.
Like a lot of US firms with a disputes emphasis, pro bono is at front and centre at Debevoise. In fact, every qualified lawyer has a 25-hour annual pro bono target, and it's a big part of trainee life too. Trainees did inform us that pro bono plays a slightly bigger role on the eighth floor: “It’s a much bigger deal in the litigation department. There are opportunities to do corporate pro bono – helping trusts set up as charities and things like that – but there’s more to get involved with on the litigation side.” It’s also a great opportunity for trainees to learn the ropes, something that also comes as part of the firm’s structured training: “It covers the key skills that you need to acquire like research, bundles etc.,” one trainee told us. “In disputes it was more practical skills-based, whereas in seats like tax, you need the basics of tax law to do almost anything, so that was more bespoke.”
"There are a lot of New York deals, which means we needed to be up when they were up.”
Trainees are expected to average three out of five days in the office over the course of the year, “whether that’s three days a week for the year, or you work remotely for a week and then make up for it.” There’s no getting past it, the hours at Debevoise are heavy going. With significantly higher hours than the market average, survey respondents were unanimous that this puts a level of strain on the day to day. “In my busier periods it was not unusual to be working 15-hour days,” one trainee told us; “sometimes you’ll need to stay on until the early hours because there are a lot of New York deals, which means we needed to be up when they were up.” That said, “if you work past 9pm, you’ll get a free taxi home and £30 Deliveroo credit.” They're also very well renumerated for their efforts (see Firm Facts top right for the details).
Third and fourth-seat trainees “need to go and have informal talks with the partners in the department they want to qualify into,” one source clarified. Instead of an interview, trainees approaching qualification fill out an online application which covers what they’ve been involved in and what feedback they’ve had. While retention rates at Debevoise are historically pretty strong, “the firm recruits heavily in trainees that have an interest in disputes, but that does mean that there are nine trainees all chasing the same qualification seats, which is only about half of those available.” So it’s a good idea for prospective trainees to go in with an open mind when it comes to NQ positions. In 2023, the firm did not disclose its retention statistics.
Don’t fall at the first hurdle…
Take our word for it, it’s important that you pronounce the firm’s name right at interview. The ‘voise’ part of Debevoise’s name rhymes with ‘noise’. You’re welcome.
How to get a Debevoise training contract
Vac scheme application deadlines: 2 January 2024
Training contract application deadlines: 2 January 2024
Open day deadline: 2 January 2024
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.
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.
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. 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 Advisor Alex Collyer 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 during their vacation scheme. 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,” Collyer 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,
Debevoise & Plimpton is a leading international law firm with market-leading practices with offices in New York, Washington DC, San Francisco, London, Paris, Frankfurt, Luxembourg, Hong Kong and Shanghai. 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.
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.
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 office.
Debevoise offers 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 September 2023 and 1 January 2024 for open days and spring and summer vacation schemes in 2024. 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.
• 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
• Tech allowance
The firm holds open days to recruit for the vacation schemes, normally in February and/or March. Around 100 candidates will be invited to attend. On the day, candidates will meet the graduate recruitment team and the firm’s Training Principal, 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, 2023
- Banking & Finance: Fund Finance (Band 2)
- Banking & Finance: Sponsors (Band 4)
- Commercial and Corporate Litigation (Band 2)
- Financial Crime: Corporates (Band 1)
- Tax (Band 4)
- Construction: International Arbitration (Band 2)
- Insurance: Non-contentious (Band 3)
- International Arbitration: Commercial Arbitration (Band 2)
- International Arbitration: Investor-State Arbitration (Band 2)
- Investment Funds: Private Equity (Band 2)
- Investment Funds: Private Equity: Credit Funds Spotlight
- Investment Funds: Private Equity: Secondaries (Band 2)
- Public International Law (Band 2)