US firm Gibson Dunn attracts top-notch corporate clients and continues to build its practice in London.
La La London
Established in 19th-century Los Angeles, Gibson Dunn is now a global legal powerhouse with 20 offices around the globe. Recently it has focused on London, increasing the office's headcount by 50% in the past five years and starting up a training contract in 2015. Since then the intake has increased from four in 2015 to seven in 2017.
In the US, Gibson Dunn is one of the biggest legal players (and biggest recruiters) in the market and has built its reputation on big-ticket commercial litigation. For example, the firm has recently taken on the unenviable job of representing Facebook in the cases arising out of the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Gibson Dunn has a respectable amount of corporate clout too, both in the US and UK. The firm has picked up a few Chambers UK rankings in London for high-end M&A, real estate and international arbitration.
“International work and exceptional clients.”
It takes time for new(ish) firms to build up rankings in a market as competitive as London, but if you look at the quality of the work already going on (advising on the proposed merger between Asda and Sainsbury’s alongside two magic circle firms) and the status the firm has achieved in Chambers Global and Chambers USA, there is no doubt to the firm's ambitions and likely trajectory here. Current trainees know this well; all were attracted to the firm for its “international work and exceptional clients.”
“We were told which department we were allocated to on our first day," a trainee told us, "but they sat us down and explained exactly why they’d decided to put us where. You could tell it was very well thought out.” Once at the firm trainees email HR with their seat preferences. Interviewees told us that you can even request to do a seat which is not formally on offer and HR will do its best to arrange it for you. As the trainee cohort increases in size things like seat allocation may become more formalised.
The litigation team covers international arbitration, investigations and High Court litigation. It recently defended Asda and Walmart against an equal pay claim pursued by 19,000 female staff members, and defended English-incorporated mining company Koza in proceedings to prevent human rights and public policy interference by the Turkish government. “I was really immersed in the strategic elements of the cases," a trainee told us, "and I got exposure to the clients as well as working as an intermediary with authorities like the SEC and the DOJ in the States.” Those involved in investigations described “reviewing documents, organising interviews and drafting witness questions.” There's also advisory work – e.g. “companies who want a risk assessment on bribery or corruption.” We heard that trainees with a burning passion to work on a particular type of litigation or a particular case can "ask if there's a space" to join the case team and do so if their supervisor okays it. Gibson Dunn calls this its "free-market system" and it originates in the US.
"Working as an intermediary with authorities like the SEC and the DOJ in the States.”
The corporate team recently represented US offshore drilling contractor Atwood Oceanics in its $6.9 billion acquisition by London-based Ensco. It also represented Hong Kong telecoms company PCCW in its sale of Transvision Investments to Three for £300 million. The team also represented UPS in its £600 million acquisition of logistics company Marken, a deal involving 70 jurisdictions. Trainees told us they'd sampled a variety of work including auction M&A deals, real estate work and private transactions. Sources said a big part of a trainee's role is “co-ordination" – for example, "segregating data rooms into different sections, compiling the documents and relaying them to a barrister, a bank or another team.” Additional tasks include drafting disclosure letters, running due diligence processes and drafting e-mails and due diligence reports. “I always felt like there was support," reflected one source, "but I never felt like I was in an overly micromanaged situation.”
The finance team recently represented online gambling operator Kindred Group in financing for 32Red, an online gaming operator. It also advised on the Gala Coral-Ladbrokes merger and William Hill’s proposed acquisition of Amaya. The team’s also advising LMI Aerospace in its acquisition by Belgian aerospace company Sonaca, worth $190 million. "We work with the New York and Dubai offices," one interviewee told us. "It's seamless: the standards are the same across different locations and you’re always having calls with other jurisdictions.” Sources also described “a steep learning curve,” with a workload that includes “running conditions precedent checklists, chasing documents, drafting ancillary documents and corresponding with the other side.” One newbie noted: “Even though you’re there to ensure nothing falls through the cracks there’s still a safety net, usually an associate who knows what’s going on.”
The employment team mainly deals with employment issues arising from the firm's finance, corporate and litigation practices. Clients include AIM Software, Bank of America, private equity firm Cinven and sports and media investor Bruin Sports Capital. Trainees reported working on contracts and “investigations where we are representing employers.” One explained: “Usually we’re told about a complaint and we have to go through documentation looking for wrongdoing and setting up interviews to get to the truth of what happened. It’s interesting because in other seats you don’t often get to deal with individuals.”
“Gibson Dunn often describes itself as entrepreneurial,” a trainee reflected, “and there is definitely an element of you needing to take hold of your career. And there’s an understanding that you’re expected to produce your best work every time." All trainees are given a budget of $1,000 “to go and market yourself and take potential clients out for dinner.” Trainees said the fact junior associates remain generalists for their first few years influences the culture. “I expected sharp elbows, but I’ve found the complete opposite,” one source observed. To encourage camaraderie all new joiners from across Gibson Dunn's offices are whisked away on a retreat – most recently in Palm Springs – where they get to enjoy team-building activities and presentations from senior management. During the trip, said one source, “you can tell the firm actively picks people who work well together and who aren’t overly individualistic or aggressive.”
“Gibson Dunn often describes itself as entrepreneurial.”
Insiders described their digs in Telephone House near Blackfriars as “the nicest I’ve seen.” Trainees share an office with their supervisor, while associates have their own office. What are the office hours like? "Quite heavy," one source said. Trainees typically work till 7pm or 8pm on average. "Obviously there are occasions when you're here at ridiculous times," one source told us. Another singled out litigation as having the longest hours, while a third said: “The latest I've worked was in finance, until 3am. That was for a deal closing in New York. But when things like that happen you’re not expected to get in at 9.30am the next day."
Trainees were keen to flag up Gibson Dunn's CSR and pro bono activities. “We do corporate pro bono like setting up charitable organisations," one source told us. "We also have a housing clinic and a domestic violence clinic every week.” Trainees are encouraged to take part. “You’re not expected to drop pro bono for billable work,” one told us.
Trainees felt confident about being kept on, and in 2018 all six qualifiers were retained.
How to get Gibson Dunn training contract
Vacation scheme deadline (2019): 1 February 2019
Training contract deadline (2021): 31 July 2019
Open day deadline (2018): 25 November 2018
First-year insight deadline (2019): 14 April 2019
Gibson Dunn's London office welcomed its first batch of trainees in 2015. Graduate recruitment manager Kathryn Edwards says that “to date, we've recruited 94% of our trainees from the vacation scheme – it's a vital part of the recruitment process. That's not to say it always will be, but I always encourage those interested in training with us to get onto the scheme.”
The firm uses the same application form for the vac scheme and training contract. It covers academic and work experience and there's a cover letter section, “which is the key part of the application,” says Kathryn Edwards. “We don’t break it down much, as we want to assess how candidates approach the exercise of writing the letter. It's an opportunity for candidates to tell us anything they'd like to about themselves, including noteworthy achievements or interests. From this we can get a real feel for the person, because the relatively free structure of the letter allows an applicant's personality to shine through.”
The firm receives over 500 initial applications and around the top 10% are invited in for an hour-long interview with a partner and an associate. During this interview, “generally, half the time is spent exploring the application form and the other half going through a topical news article that we ask candidates to read quite quickly before the interview starts and discuss. The emphasis is very much on how candidates marshal the information in the article, express themselves and formulate their arguments, particularly when challenged. Their level of knowledge of the topic and their personal opinion are irrelevant.”
The vacation scheme has 20 places and runs for three weeks in July. Students who successfully bag a spot on the “jam-packed programme” spend a week and a half with a supervisor in the firm's transactional group and the same amount of time within the disputes group. “We try to ensure they're getting involved in live work and gain a realistic understanding of what it's like to train at GD,” explains Edwards. Assessed exercises include a group presentation which “allows students to showcase their team-working skills. We want to see whether they thrive in a group, how they divide up tasks and support one another. The actual presentation is scheduled in the final week, which means the students have over two weeks to research the scenario and produce a two-page memo before they're up on their feet for a ten-minute presentation.”
There are also written exercises to contend with. One “has a corporate slant, while the other requires the students to consider the elements of a settlement agreement. In each case the students attend an information session to learn about the task set, as well as receiving feedback so they know what they did right and where there might be room for improvement. We think it’s really important for students to learn and develop while here.” Vac schemers also get involved in a mock negotiation, which “isn't formally assessed. We split the group into teams and run three concurrent negotiations – people enjoy being out of their comfort zone and taking on a different persona. We talk to them beforehand about tactics and they put that theory into practice. Students often report that it’s a favourite part of the scheme.”
'Coffee conversations' are also on the itinerary – “these are informal chats over coffee and biscuits with partners and senior associates from each of the firm’s practice areas, with the opportunity to ask questions about life as a trainee and the day-to-day work of each team.”
Kathryn Edwards notes that “one of the highlights” of the vac scheme is a discussion with Lord Falconer QC, who's a partner at the firm. Falconer talks to the group about his career, which included working alongside Tony Blair as Lord Chancellor. Edwards tells us: “He encourages the students to examine what it is they want from a legal career, what their goals and aspirations are, and how they can use their skills for good in the future. The session is extremely inspirational and the students really look forward to it!”
On the social side of things, there's a legal treasure hunt around the City, a bowling night in East London, a darts championship at Flight Club, plenty of impromptu drinks, a ride on the London Eye complete with Champagne and canapés, plus a farewell summer party on the firm’s roof terrace overlooking the Thames.
How much work experience do successful candidates need? “There's no set amount. We review each application individually and expect to see different paths. I might want a little more legal work experience from someone who's a non-law student in order to evidence their commitment to a legal career, and to show they've investigated whether commercial law is for them. It doesn't have to be weeks of vac schemes but valuable experiences like attending court or working in a commercial institution in the City or in the service industry. We also understand that it is easier for some students to get relevant and interesting work experience than others. The key thing is that, whatever level of experience a candidate has, he or she has thought a little outside the parameters of their particular role, for example, considering the commercial aspects of the organisation for which they have worked. We like curious individuals!”
Any final tips for candidates? Edwards says: “Be yourself! Don’t just repeat things at length which you’ve read on our website or tell us what you think we want to hear. Your application will stand out if it is well-considered and a true reflection of your achievements and ambitions.”
Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP
2-4 Temple Avenue,
- Partners 32 (London)
- Associates 60 (London)
- Total trainees 12
- UK offices London
- Overseas offices Beijing, Brussels, Century City, Dallas, Denver, Dubai, Frankfurt, Hong Kong, Houston, Los Angeles, Munich, New York, Orange County, Palo Alto, Paris, San Francisco, São Paulo, Singapore, Washington DC
- Graduate recruiter: Kathryn Edwards, Graduate Recruitment and Development Manager
- Training Partner: Mark Sperotto
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 7-8
- Applications pa: 760
- Minimum required degree: grade 2:1
- Minimum A levels: AAA, ABB, AAC or equivalent
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: 4 October 2018
- Training contract deadline, 2021 start: 31 July 2019
- Vacation scheme 2019 deadline: 1 February 2019
- Open day deadline: 25 November 2018 (open day); 14 April 2019 (first-year insight day)
- Method of application: Online
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £45,000
- Second-year salary: £50,000
- Post-qualification salary: £120,000
- Holiday entitlement: 25
- LPC fees: Yes
- GDL fees: Yes
- Maintenance grant pa: Competitive
- International and regional
- Offices with training contracts: London
- Overseas seats: Hong Kong
- Client secondments: Yes
Main areas of work
Trainees rotate around four six-month seats with opportunity to spend time in corporate, finance, dispute resolution, employment, tax, competition and funds. We also expect to be able to offer secondments to an overseas office of the firm, and with a client.
Trainees share a room with a partner or senior associate, and work with them on their matters, whilst also having the opportunity to work with the other lawyers in the firm. Gibson Dunn is proud to have a strong, sustained commitment to pro bono work, and our trainees are encouraged to participate in this tradition and work on local and international pro bono activities.
• Pay: £500 per week
Our summer vacation scheme is intended for both law students and students of other disciplines in their penultimate and final year of study, recent graduates (in any discipline), and those already taking a GDL or LPC course.
Gibson Dunn strongly encourages candidates interested in a training contract to apply for a place on our summer vacation scheme, rather than directly for a training contract. To date, the majority of our trainees have been recruited from our summer vacation scheme.
Early application is advised as places will be allocated on a rolling basis.
You will also benefit from individual annual book, client development and professional development allowances, attendance at US firm retreats and extensive Professional Development, Diversity and Pro Bono programmes.
Open days and first-year opportunities
• 5 December 2018
• Applications are welcome from those who are eligible to apply for our summer vacation scheme.
First-year insight scheme
• 26 April 2019
• Applications are welcome from students of any discipline in their first year of undergraduate study.
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2018
- Corporate/M&A: High-end Capability (Band 5)
- Real Estate Finance (Band 3)
- International Arbitration: Commercial Arbitration (Band 4)