This lean and nimble US outfit offers incomers high responsibility with a more "sustainable" work-life balance.
Dorsey & Whitney training contract review 2022
Why Dorsey? “My personality is better suited to a smaller intake,” one of our interviewees quickly responded. It’s an answer we hear time and time again from trainees who wanted to avoid “being a number in a large intake.” However, while most firms with under 20 trainees would be considered on the smaller side, Dorsey’s intake of just two trainees per intake makes it among the very smallest in our guide. The benefits of this were clear to our insiders: “It means that I can easily reach out to partners I’m working with and feel they are more available – it’s great for your development.”
"It’s a great place to train if you’re interested in M&A.”
Trainees were also drawn in by the prospect of joining a firm in growth mode. “The short to medium term plan is to grow the firm’s corporate arm, as well as the areas that operate in tandem to that, such as real estate, litigation, and IP,” trainees highlighted. We were told that as part of the firm’s strategy, the London office is expected to double in size within the next five years. Dorsey has a handful of lawyers who are Chambers UK-ranked in capital markets and corporate/M&A, while in the US, the firm has an enviable horde of top rankings across a range of disciplines. There’s plenty of cross-border work for trainees to wrestle with as Dorsey’s London office acts as the gateway for its clients with business interests in Europe as well as European clients with investments in America, Africa and Asia. “While there are matters that come in from the US where we play a supporting role, the goal is to have London generating most of its own work,” insiders explained. One source also made clear that “the main focus of the office is corporate work, so it’s a great place to train if you’re interested in M&A.”
Being an office of just over 20 individuals, there aren’t a huge number of departments trainees can sit in. Trainees explained that “generally, you do two seats in corporate, one in litigation, and one in IP/real estate.” However, sources pointed out that “the training partner who is in charge is open to asking which seats you want to do and in what order.” Sources also highlighted that “our seats don’t always follow the typical six-month cycle – the parameters are a lot more flexible. It means you’re never entering a dead seat and you’re able to see significant cases/deals through from start to finish.”
"I’ve drafted all different sorts of ancillaries."
Dorsey’s corporate group mainly handles M&A and capital markets work, with a bit of leveraged finance on the side. The group operates over a number of sectors but has a particular penchant for deals in the technology, healthcare, and financial service sectors; the firm is targeting growth in the professional services sector too. Recently, the team represented Index Ventures in the £18.9 million sale of Peoplevox, a provider of cloud-based e-commerce warehouse solutions to Descartes Systems Group; acted for decommissioning specialists W-SS in connection with its sale of new shares and debt securities for a consideration of £26 million; and advised the equity partners of Spanish law firm RCD on its sale to DWF Group. “Corporate has provided many varied opportunities to learn and develop as a legal professional,” one source told us, adding that “it has a fast-paced nature and a high level of responsibility.” Another added: "I’ve drafted all different sorts of ancillaries, some policy-type documents, as well as managed the due diligence process.” It’s common for trainees’ second stint in corporate to “incorporate a bit of a finance work.” For one trainee, this meant representing borrowers in financings. “I was able to draft board minutes, as well as various resolutions,” one told us.
Dorsey’s disputes team focuses on commercial disputes but incorporates a growing international arbitration too. Sources rated the seat highly for progressing their knowledge of a key area of law and were kept busy drafting letters, putting together bundles, and conducting research into precedent. Recently, the group acted for a Norwegian minority shareholder in a shareholder dispute with a US-based majority shareholder, Moore Frères & Company. It also acted for WatchStone Group in bringing a £63 million claim against PwC, alleging breach of contract, confidence, and fiduciary duty and unlawful means conspiracy.
Dorsey offers trainees a unique seat that combines IP and commercial with real estate. However, sources told us that “most of the work is IP-focused.” The team often supports the corporate team on large transactions but there’s also plenty of independent work too. Recently, the firm represented Pregis Innovative Packaging in trade mark opposition proceedings at the UK IPO against an application by Mack Packaging for the mark ‘EASIPACK’. Similarly, they have defended CAMcap Markets in defending trade mark opposition proceedings in the UK IPO brought by The Capital Group against the client’s application for the figurative mark ‘CAMcap’. Our interviewees mainly spent their time conducting research, but were also able to write memos, draft terms and conditions, and amend distribution agreements.
Trainees have access to a variety of pro bono work through the firm’s dedicated pro bono portal. We spoke to trainees who had aided charities with their corporate structures, as well as been involved in prison and sentencing work. One source highlighted that “the firm aims to have 5% of all billable hours dedicated to pro bono.” Although there’s no formal limit, our insiders made clear that “client billable work still takes priority,” and one source reflected that “there may be less opportunities than other US firms which have larger offices in London.”
A hallmark of training contracts at US firms is their hands-off nature, and that’s certainly true of Dorsey. “There’s little formal training,” one insider disclosed, adding that “it’s been challenging working from home as a trainee. You need to be proactive and independent to succeed here.” Those looking for a nine-to-five lifestyle should similarly consider whether Dorsey is right for them. Because while trainees told us that “we’re definitely not working until 10pm every night,” they did report finishing consistently between 7pm and 8pm. One source added: “To some extent, there is an expectation that you’re always on and making sure you can respond to emails.” However, sources also said that there were plenty of opportunities to finish earlier, around the 6.30pm mark, and one trainee was keen to highlight that “I rarely have to put in a significant number of hours on the weekend.” Our own research confirms that trainees at Dorsey work significantly fewer hours compared to trainees at many of the other US firms in London, where weekend working and consistently working until 9pm is the norm. Of course, this is reflected in the comparatively lower NQ pay packet, which still outdoes many other firms in the City at £82,000.
Owing to the size of the firm, trainees pointed out that “there isn’t much of a more formalised mental wellbeing programme,” reflecting that support was largely down to individual supervisors. However, trainees and associates are all assigned partner mentors outside of their department who they can call on for assistance.
"I have worked with every partner and every associate on the corporate team, and they know who I am at a personal level.”
On the subject of culture more broadly, our interviewees were quick to bring it back to the benefits of the firm’s size. “It’s a culture that is easier to curate,” one source reflected. Another weighed in: “Everybody knows each other. I have worked with every partner and every associate on the corporate team, and they know who I am at a personal level.” They added that “it makes it so much nicer when you need to reach out and ask questions; there’s no sense that you’re having to reach up a huge chain of command if you need something.” The sense of ease was bolstered by the fact that “everyone has a good attitude. There’re no super egoistical types here and everyone just wants to get along. It’s helpful to be able to focus on your development without worrying about office politics.” Our interviewees also highlighted that “although the London office is small, there are still efforts to prioritise diversity and inclusion.” For example, the firm’s D&I committee runs a number of educational events throughout the year on topics such as unconscious bias.
Approaching qualification, trainees have conversations with the teams they wish to qualify into. The firm has to make a business case to keep trainees on post-qualification, which is subject to approval from the US. “They look a lot at billable hours and whether there’s statistical business need for NQs,” one trainee disclosed. This year the firm kept on only one of its two qualifying trainees.
The firm has raised its NQ salary to £82,000.
How to get into Dorsey & Whitney
Dorsey receives over 300 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’s 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 and Cashman confirms “paralegal experience is helpful, but not critical.”
A group of partners combs through every application and invites 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 “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.
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