Dorsey & Whitney - True Picture

Open the Dor and you will sey, a small, tight-knit London offering, with a “big presence globally.”

Dorsey & Whitney training contract review 2024

The Firm

Dorsey & Whitney started life over in the US, but while the bulk of its 21 offices remain in the States, the London contingent have been in the capital for over 30 years. Coupled with the fact that Dorsey’s UK office has a tiny headcount compared to a lot of other firms in the City, it’s created a small firm feel that has gone a long way to shake off those US firm stereotypes: “It sounds a bit cheesy to call it a ‘family’ vibe, but it is a bit! Everyone knows each other, and everyone will work together at some stage,” one trainee commented. But: “While it’s small in London, it has a big presence globally.” Alongside its 15 US offices, Dorsey & Whitney have a presence in Beijing, Hong Kong, Shanghai, and two Canadian offices in Vancouver and Toronto.

“It sounds a bit cheesy to call it a ‘family’ vibe, but it is a bit!”

The firm’s work is built around six industries: banking, development & infrastructure, energy & natural resources, food, beverage & agribusiness, healthcare, and technology. In London, D&W is paying particular attention to banking & finance, healthcare, technology, and energy, but its service to these industries is very much corporate-led, with a couple of Chambers-ranked lawyers in corporate/M&A: £10-100 million. This season of growth has been reflected in its trainee recruitment too, with the firm taking on three trainees this September (where it used to be two).

The Seats

Each trainee will spend four blocks of six months in teams from the following seat options: mergers & acquisitions, capital markets & banking, commercial litigation and real estate & intellectual property. “Only relatively recently, Stuart Worthy has taken over as the training partner,” one trainee explained, “and since then it has become a lot more flexible. He’ll come to the trainee to get their preference and while it can’t always be accommodated, they try their best.” The process for flagging up your preference is relatively informal, with most happening over a lunch or coffee with a supervisor: “You’ll definitely do a corporate and a litigation seat, so they try and get you some experience in both, and then some opportunity to try out some smaller areas like IP and real estate.” While secondments to D&W’s overseas offices are not currently an option for trainees in London, the current cohort was quick to highlight that “it’s something we’d be super-interested in. I’d heard that in the past it was possible to spend some time in the US, so hopefully that will be an option in the future.”

"The client contact is fantastic, whether it’s jumping on a call with them or meeting them face to face.”

“In terms of the London office, the corporate team is the biggest area of practice,” one trainee was quick to highlight. In fact, sources described the corporatepractice as “the predominant focus of the firm, especially M&A.” Within the M&A sphere, the corporate group at D&W includes specialists in M&A-related tax, employment, intellectual property, real estate and banking. Given that trainees will work with almost all the partners at the firm at some stage, it’s a good vantage point for seeing the kinds of work that comes the firm’s way too: “We have a lot of international work, with some really exciting, big deals that I wasn’t expecting going to a smaller London firm,” one told us. In one such deal, the firm represented South African IT company Datatec on the £210 million sale of consultancy company Analysys Mason to a London-based private equity firm. For trainees, the more administrative work is the bread and butter: “I’ve done a lot of DocuSign reviews and proofreading before a contract goes out,” one source remarked, “but it’s a good way to learn as you go.” Of course, it isn’t all admin: “I’ve been able to get on site with clients and run them through the due diligence process,” one recalled, “so the client contact is fantastic, whether it’s jumping on a call with them or meeting them face to face.”

One of the other practices the firm has placed a particular emphasis on in recent years is commercial litigation & arbitration, with litigation specialist Aymen Khoury joining the firm back in December. The team works closely with corporate partners on contentious matters, plenty of which have a significant cross-border element. This means that there’s a fair amount of crossover with the firm’s offices in Asia too. “Because it’s all highly confidential, I would say it felt like slightly less responsibility than I had in corporate as a trainee,” one commented, “but you still work with the partner directly. There was definitely a sense that they trust your work to be of a certain standard.” Typical trainee tasks in the seat included: “E-filing, preparing documentation and bundling,” which necessitates “really trying to understand what is going on in the case. We are often searching through our data platform trying to find documents that support our point.” In one recent case, the firm represented the Watchstone Group in its claim against a Big Four accountancy firm over a breach of warranty.

For trainees interested in getting a taste of some of the firm’s smaller practices, there is the option to do a mixed seat that involves dipping in and out of a few different ones. One practice that could fall into a mixed seat like this is intellectual property. The IP practice at D&W encompasses patent, trademark and copyright litigation, as well as ITC and cancellation proceedings. “One of the IP disputes I had worked on required a lot of legal research to support the case,” one trainee recalled, “alongside standard tasks like checking the trademark register to check that we could register a company with a name that wasn’t already taken.” Given the firm’s industry focus, trainees will often find themselves liaising directly with IP lawyers at the firm when they come across matters with an IP component in seats like corporate. In one recent case, the firm represented Intelligent Cleaning Equipment Holdings in a trademark and passing-off case at the Intellectual Property Enterprise Court.

While banking & finance is one of the firm’s all-important industry focuses, a lot of its service to these industries is corporate-driven. This means that while it is a key part of the firm’s offering globally, finance makes up a smaller portion of D&W’s London practice, and it’s another of the teams that trainees can dip into. Across its offices, the banking & finance group covers a breadth of banking matters, from bankruptcy and financial restructuring to lending transactions. “I was able to get in on drafting agency agreements, and help with the debt financing process,” one source told us.

Trainee Life

“The office is in a bit of chaos at the moment, because there is a lot of building work going on!” one trainee joked, “but it’s going to be super worth it, because when it’s all done, we’ll have a fantastic refurbished office right by Spitalfields market.” One of the benefits of being part of such a small firm is that all partners, associates and trainees are spread out on one floor, “which is great because when you need the input of a real estate or IP partner on a transaction, you can just walk down the corridor.” One thing that trainees mentioned was that you need to be proactive to get feedback from partners and supervisors: “At Dorsey you have official feedback at the end of the seat, but more informal feedback was something I initiated.” That being said, they were always happy to provide it.

When it comes to hybrid working: “We are in three days a week, with one set day where the whole firm comes into the office, which is a Tuesday. But we are encouraged to be in as much as possible,” one source explained, “and the majority of partners do try to come in the majority of the time.” Hours at the firm, as comes with the territory, can be arduous: “If I’m busy it can be anything from 10pm to 2am,” one told us, “but you can often leave the office at 7pm, and log back on when you get home.” Of course, the firm softens the blow with a generous £45,000 first-year trainee salary: “They are trying to make sure it’s competitive,” one added, “but another thing was that I had already completed the LPC before applying, and they reimbursed me for those fees, which was really unexpected.”

“There’s nothing additional required from you besides doing a good job for the two years!”

Come qualification time: “They are quite transparent about it. It isn’t a formal process where you apply and then have an interview or anything like that.” Instead, “if they’d like to make you an offer they let you know. There’s nothing additional required from you besides doing a good job for the two years!” The firm does require approval from the US mothership to keep NQs on, “but once they have that approval it’s just a conversation about where we’d like to stay.” In 2023, the firm retained one of two qualifiers.

On the house:

“At the end of every month, we have ‘partner drinks’, where the responsibility for organising drinks at the office rotates between the partners!”

How to get a Dorsey & Whitney training contract

Training contract deadline: 30 June 2024

Initial applications 

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 Stewart Worthy 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 paralegalled at another firm before joining Dorsey, and Worthy confirms “paralegal experience is helpful, but not critical. What we are looking for are self-starters.” 

The interviews 

A group of partners combs through every application and invites between 15 and 20 candidates to a first-round interview. “That simply involves a chat with a partner and a senior associate so we can get to know you as a person,” Stewart Worthy says. “We’re looking for somebody who has a clear interest in the firm and has done some research about what we do.” 

Eight to ten 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. Worthy 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, Worthy reveals that “interviewees most often come across badly in their presentation 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.

Dorsey & Whitney

199 Bishopsgate,

Firm profile
Dorsey provides an integrated, proactive approach to its clients’ legal and business needs around the globe, with locations across the United States and in Canada, Europe and Asia. Industry leaders and successful companies turn to Dorsey for the edge they need to succeed in a highly competitive world. We serve clients in nearly all industries, but focus on six key industries — banking and financial institutions; development and infrastructure; energy and natural resources; food, beverage and agribusiness; healthcare; and technology — in which we have great depth and a history of achieving client success.

Main areas of work
Dorsey is a full-service law firm with an integrated network of practices that routinely work with one another. We have more than 60 practice areas including: benefits and compensation, corporate, finance and restructuring, health transactions and regulations, labour and employment, patent, public finance, real estate, regulatory affairs, tax, trusts and estates, trademark, and trial.

Training opportunities
The training contract comprises of four six month seats. Two seats are in Corporate/Capital Markets/ Banking with one Litigation seat and one seat in Real Estate/IP.

Vacation scheme
We do not offer vacation scheme/work placements.

Other benefits
• Life Insurance
• Long Term Disability
• Private Health Care
• Employee Assistance Programme
• Season Ticket Loan

This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2023

Ranked Departments

    • Corporate/M&A: £10-100 million (Band 4)