If you’re searching high and low for a US firm with a stable footing in London, make sure Dorsey’s on your radar.
Ever played that game where you try to name all 50 US states? You’ll probably tick off New York, California and a whole lot more before getting to Minnesota, land of 10,000 lakes and the birthplace of Dorsey & Whitney. Like its home state, Dorsey isn’t as well-known in the UK as some of its American brethren: several of its trainees felt “it could do a much better job advertising itself over here.” Good thing we're on hand to spread the word!
“I was looking for a firm with a small intake,” more than one interviewee told us, “so it would be easy to get experience working directly with partners.” Dorsey only takes two trainees a year, and with an office headcount of just 26 lawyers including 17partners our interviewees had no fears of getting lost in the shuffle. The firm’s a bigger beast across the pond, boasting 14 US offices and more than 20 Chambers USA rankings. Its sole Chambers UK ranking is for lower mid-market M&A, a practice it largely generates from London without needing to leech work from the States.
“It could do a much better job advertising itself over here.”
The London office is “in a good position with its own work streams” according to trainees, “which is massively important for American firms operating in London given this is a testing time for the legal market.” Brexit inevitably came up in conversation; insiders noticed “there’s been a bit of uncertainty and some quiet periods, but overall things seem quite steady.” We quizzed training partner Mike Cashman about Dorsey’s plans for the near future – he says the firm “wants to double the size of the London office. Primarily the focus will be on M&A, litigation, and banking and finance.” Read our full interview with Cashman on the bonus features tab.
Every Dorsey trainee rotates through the same four seats, with allocation decided by the firm just before everybody swaps. Corporate is by far the largest department and trainees spend two seats each here; the other two seats are litigation and a shared IP/real estate seat. “The seat process is rigid but the work isn’t so much,” sources told us. “You can end up dipping your toes wherever there’s need for you.” The London office doesn’t hire paralegals, so trainees can end up as general resources for the busiest departments. Our interviewees didn’t mind being called on in this way, as “everybody chips in where they can and we’re all more than happy to do so.” The firm tends to hire trainees with paralegal experience at other firms.
Seat options: M&A, banking/capital markets, litigation, real estate/IP.
I wanna draft with somebody
Dorsey’s corporate team makes up more than half the lawyer numbers in London. Trainees theoretically do an M&A and a banking/capital markets seat here, but “what you actually work on depends on what’s coming in” and which side of the practice is hottest. Unlike many US firms in London, Dorsey handles a fair amount of mid-market domestic deals for “really varied clients.” Tech support provider Watchstone is a key client; others include insurer Casualty & General and Minnesota-based security tech firm Entrust Datacard, which Dorsey recently advised on its acquisition of a Danish multifactor authentication business. Trainees told us that “most of the recent meaty deals have been UK-centric – the work coming over from America tends to be more ad hoc.” One interviewee reported on their own responsibilities: “I’ve prepared board minutes, reviewed share purchase agreements, drafted the ancillaries to investment documents, and marked up warranty schedules.” Trainees suggested that Dorsey’s small London headcount makes it easier to get “decent client exposure within the first six months.”
On the capital markets side of things it's been go-go-go on IPOs. Dorsey recently advised Liberum Capital during its £280 million ‘fixed price offer’ IPO launch for video game developer Codemasters. Trainees in the seat weren’t playing around though. “I was doing verification together with an associate,” one told us. “Trainees do a lot of the same work NQs are doing and I’m very happy with the level of responsibility.” Interviewees were also pleased to find “you can remain involved” in lengthier transactions “even after rotating seats.”
“I get to do more research because I’m not tied up in document review.”
New arrivals in litigation were “surprised how important it is to the firm given how small the team is” – just two partners steer the ship. Trainees dove into a £637 million suit brought against Dorsey client Watchstone (formerly known as Quindell, if you want to do further research) by law firm Slater & Gordon, which purchased the tech company’s professional services division in 2015. Other recent cases involved a Norwegian minority shareholder and Italian copyright law – “international work isn’t just drip-fed from the US.” Dorsey’s London office outsources document review to a US-based team so “trainees get substantive work on a much quicker time scale.” Asked for examples of such substantive work, one recalled “drafting application notices and letters to the other side. I also get to do more research because I’m not tied up in document review.” We heard that the availability of client contact goes “up and down” compared to in corporate, but sources were happy with their lot.
The IP and real estate teams are even smaller than litigation so trainees split a seat between the two and work on whatever’s happening. On the IP front “it’s mainly trademark applications on behalf of clients,” plus commercial contracts and GDPR-related advice. Trainees had drafted privacy policies “for clients to put on their website or send to customers.” Manufacturers including the Kohler Group and Bosch are on Dorsey’s books, and the firm also advised streaming service DAZN in negotiations with Matchroom Boxing to promote and distribute boxing events in the US and Italy. Largely happy with their experience, trainees admitted “sometimes the work can be too technical for us to handle.”
No such trouble in real estate, where sources liaised with the Land Registry and drafted leases. Recent clients include U.S. Bank and Honda Europe; there’s also pro bono work – “it doesn’t come around often, but you can get lucky.” Team corporate also does a fair a bit of pro bono, mostly for emerging companies.
Open Dorsey policy
London's practice groups often club together for matters and “because many of them are made up of just one or two lawyers,” it doesn’t take trainees long to meet everybody at the firm. “I’d feel comfortable walking into any partner’s office with a question,” one said, “and we often chat about football or our personal lives.” Trainees share an office with a senior associate or partner supervisor in each seat – across the board we heard “supervisors are fantastic, helping out and providing constructive criticism.” The name on the stationery might be American, but Dorsey’s London office feels “a lot more English” from a trainee perspective “in that you’re not expected to break yourself or bleed from the eyes every evening.”
“It feels a lot more English… you’re not expected to break yourself.”
The hours certainly sound more forgiving than at some US and City firms: “Working past 10 or 11pm is rare,” withtraineestypically leaving between 5.30 and 7pm. Corporate is more varied than other seats, and “things might pop up at 4.30pm which keep you here late,” but overall our sources felt “it’s been very reasonable. I’ve never worked past 1am and only had to come in over a weekend once during a closing that happened over a bank holiday.”
Looking for downsides to Dorsey’s tight-knit and (comparatively) undemanding feel, trainees admitted “the social life is a bit lacking. That’s partly because we’re partner-heavy and there aren’t many young people here.” A four-person social committee (including one trainee) organises Christmas and summer parties and “is getting better” at running more events including diversity-oriented sessions. “There’s room for improvement” on both the social and diversity fronts, “but Dorsey’s on the right track” according to trainees.Our calls came just after a firm-sponsored International Women’s Day dinner, and Dorsey now runs monthly meetings to discuss diversity issues.
The London office needs US approval to keep trainees on post-qualification, but most of our interviewees were confident in their “expectation of getting a job offer after the training contract.” In 2019 one of two trainees stayed on as NQs.
How to get a Dorsey & Whitney training contract
Training contract deadline (2019): 31 July 2019
Dorsey receives between 130 and 150 applications for its two training contract spots each year. The first phase is simple: applicants need only submit a covering letter and CV. “You have to be quite succinct nailing down your experience and how it’s relevant to the firm,” according to trainees. “What we’re looking for is a 2:1 from a reputable university,” training partner Mike Cashman tells us.
Applicants tend to “have an interest both in working for an international firm and being part of a small intake, where they can take on more responsibility and gain more experience in the early stages.” Historically, the firm has recruited a fair few trainees with paralegal experience. Of the most recent cohort, one of the two has paralegeled at another firm before joining Dorsey. Cashman confirms “paralegal experience is helpful, but not critical.”
A group of partners comb through every application and invite between 15 and 20 candidates to a first round interview. “That simply involves coming in to have a chat with a few partners so we can get to know you as a person,” Mike Cashman says. “We’re looking for somebody who has a clear interest in the firm and has done some research about what we do.”
8 or 10 strong performers will progress to round two of interviews. This involves writing a reply to a legal problem; a five-minute presentation on a topic of the applicant’s choice; and a final interview with two Dorsey partners. Cashman explains that “people come across well if they’re confident in their presentation and methodical in their analysis of the written problem.”
As for what not to do, Cashman reveals “interviewees most often come across badly in their presentation, especially if they’re ill-prepared.” Fit is also very important at this stage, and applicants get to chat with a couple of the firm’s current trainees to see if they gel. Dorsey makes offers to the two candidates who perform best overall.
Interview with training principal Michael Cashman
Chambers Student: What plans does Dorsey have for the London office?
Mike Cashman: We have a strategic plan for London with quite ambitious growth targets. Our aim is to double the size of the London office, primarily focusing on expanding our M&A, banking and finance and dispute resolution teams. To that end, we’ve recently hired three banking partners: Philip Slater from Morrison Foerster plus Helena Nathanson and Paul Regan from Bryan Cave. We’re actively recruiting and trying to grow, and interviewing more partners at the moment. These are the steps we need to take to achieve our goals.
CS: Do you foresee growing trainee numbers? If so, why?
MC: We absolutely want to. Growing the firm will require growing our associate base, we can’t just hire partners. The best way to do that is getting our trainees to qualify with us.
CS: How is Brexit affecting the firm? How is it affecting your clients' business?
MC: It’s been a little odd, as last year was an incredibly busy year in the M&A world with lots of mid-market and a couple of big deals. 2019 so far has been very up and down, it seems many businesses are sitting on their cash at the moment. In one instance a client tried to raise money through an IPO and underwriters were waiting to see what happens with Brexit. There’s currently a large pent-up demand which will be unleashed once, or if, Brexit ever gets sorted.
CS: How are new technological developments affecting the firm?
MC: What the firm has introduced so far has been very good: we’ve just gone through a major upgrade of our laptops, and now we’ve all got fantastic Lenovo ThinkPads. We can now take documents, mark them up with a pen then email them, it’s a fantastic innovation.
CS: A firm’s character or culture is an important subject for our readers. What would you tell them about Dorsey’s culture?
MC: One of the things I like about this firm, and one reason I came here in the first place, was the collaborative nature. As a tax lawyer I need corporate lawyers to help me out and they’re always willing to do so. This isn’t like some firms where certain people can end up sitting in siloes, there’s a vast amount of interaction between our people. For each client, we give 100% credit to whomever brought them in, but then others who contribute will also get a chunk on top of that. It encourages sharing because everyone benefits from matters, nobody’s putting in a pile of work and getting no credit from management.
CS: Do you have any advice for our readers who are about to enter the legal profession?
MC: I read a vast number of CVs: it’s very important to have a well-prepared one and to be able to talk about CV when it comes to interview. It’s sometimes a struggle to get people to describe things they’ve done. It’s also important to spell my name right on covering letters! You have once chance to impress, and your CV and covering letter is your shop front. Every year we get so many that if yours doesn’t read well then you won’t make it past the first stage.
CS: Is there anything else we haven't already talked about that our readers should know about Dorsey & Whitney?
MC: We have an extremely high retention rate for trainees. The firm’s taken on pretty much every trainee since I started as a training partner four years ago; the only one who didn’t stay left for a job with a real estate fund, we’d made them an offer. We’re very keen to keep our trainees on when they qualify, not least because spend a vast amount of time and effort training them up.
We take formal training very seriously as well – the firm runs a lot of different seminars and workshops, some specifically designed for trainees and other more general ones that they’re also encouraged to attend.
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This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2018
- Corporate/M&A: Lower Mid-Market (Band 3)